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The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 37 
Cambridge University Press, London, N.W. 1, England 
W. J. Gage & Co., Limited, Toronto 2B, Canada 

Copyright 1946 by The Unmersity of Chicago. All rights 
reserved. Published 1946. Second Impression 1948 . Composed 
and printed by The University of Chicago Press, 
Chicago^ lilinoiSi US.A* 


T his volume contains lectures given as a public course in the 
Division of the Humanities of the University of Chicago. 
Except for minor changes, they are published in the form in which 
they were delivered, not in order to avoid transforming them into 
scientific treatises but because we believe that the direct exposi- 
tory method involves something of a challenge. In effect, we are 
presenting Webster’s definition of an essay — “a literary composi- 
tion, analytical or interpretative in nature, dealing with its subject 
from a more or less limited or personal standpoint and permitting 
a considerable freedom of style and method.” We believe that the 
essay form possesses potentialities, even in dealing with our frag- 
mentary and intricate sources which impose attention to detail as 
a first duty on every worker in the field. Such essays may claim a 
new freedom of method; they may have to cut across a historical 
approach for the sake of a new perspective; they may have to ig- 
nore the many-sidedness of a problem for the sake of a single as- 
pect of it; sometimes their aim must be to evoke rather than to 
prove or argue. But, however varied their treatment may be, the 
essayists will have one characteristic in common. Bent on discov- 
ering the meaning of cultural and historical phenomena, their ap- 
proach will be humanistic, and they will express themselves in 
terms understood by the educated layman. 

Since these lectures address themselves primarily to a lay audi- 
ence, the critical and documentary apparatus has been cut to a mini- 
mum and placed at the ends of the chapters. Our professional col- 
leagues, however, will have little difficulty in distinguishing where 
we propound accepted views and where we offer new interpreta- 
tions. We intend to defend some of the latter with all necessary 
documentation in future publications. Unless otherwise indicated, 
the translations in the present volume are those of the individual 
author, except in the case of biblical quotations, a large number 
of which are taken from the American Standard Version (used 




with permission of the International Council of Religious Edu- 
cation) . 

The four main contributions in these lectures have been inte- 
grated through continued discussions and the exchange of prelimi- 
nary manuscripts over a series of several months in advance of de- 
livery. The result has been agreement on a unified point of view, 
which binds together divergent methods of presentation. Mrs. 
H. A. Groenewegen Frankfort, who was the first to suggest the 
subject of these lectures and who has contributed her special 
knowledge as a student of philosophy, serves with her husband as 
the author of the first and last chapters. She is also responsible for 
the poetical rendering of the translations from the Sumerian and 
Akkadian in chapters v-vii. 

Oriental Institute 
University of Chicago 
March 1946 



By H. and H. A. FRANKFORT 

L Myth and Reality . . , 3 




II. The Nature of the Universe ........ 31 

III. The Function of the State 62 

IV. The Values of Life 93 



V. The Cosmos as a State 125 

VL The Function of the State 185 

VIL The Good Life 202 



VIIL Goo ' . . . . , . . 223 

IX. Man 255 

X. Man in the IVield 293 

XL Nation, Society, and Politics . 326 


By H. and H. A. FRANKFORT 

XIL The Emancipation of Thought from Myth , . . . ' 363' 


Index,' .. ■. 391;: 





I F WE look for “speculative thought” in the documents of the 
ancients, we shall be forced to admit that there is very little 
indeed in our written records which deserves the name of 
“thought” in the strict sense of that term. There are very few 
passages which show the discipline, the cogency of reasoning, 
which we associate with thinking. The thought of the ancient 
Near East appears wrapped in imagination. We consider it tainted 
with fantasy. But the ancients would not have admitted that any- 
thing could be abstracted from the concrete imaginative forms 
which they left us. 

We should remember that even for us speculative thought is less 
rigidly disciplined than any other form. Speculation — as the ety- 
mology of the word shows — is an intuitive, an almost visionary, 
mode of apprehension. This does not mean, of course, that it is 
mere irresponsible meandering of the mind, which ignores reality 
or seeks to escape from its problems. Speculative thought tran- 
scends experience, but only because it attempts to explain, to 
unify, to order experience. It achieves this end by means of hy- 
potheses. If we use the word in its original sense, then we may say 
that speculative thought attempts to underpin the chaos of experi- 
ence so that it may reveal the features of a structure — order, co- 
herence, and meaning. 

Speculative thought is therefore distinct from mere idle specu- 
lation in that it never breaks entirely away from experience. It may 
be “once removed” from the problems of experience, but it is con- 
nected with them in that it tries to explain them. 

In our own time speculative thought finds its scope more severe- 
ly limited than it has been at any other period. For we possess in 
science another instrument for the interpretation of experience, 
one that has achieved marvels and retains its full fascination. Wfe 
do not allow speculative thought, under any circumstances, to en- 

3 :; : 


croach upon the sacred precincts of science. It must not trespass 
on the realm of verifiable fact; and it must never pretend to a dig- 
nity higher than that of working hypotheses, even in the fields in 
which it is permitted some scope. 

Where, then, is speculative thought allowed to range today? 
Its main concern is with man — his nature and his problems, his 
values and his destiny. For man does not quite succeed in becoming 
a scientific object to himself. His need of transcending chaotic ex- 
perience and conflicting facts leads him to seek a metaphysical hy- 
pothesis that may clarify his urgent problems. On the subject of 
his “self’ man will, most obstinately, speculate — even today. 

When we turn to the ancient Near East in search of similar ef- 
forts, two correlated facts become apparent. In the first place, we 
find that speculation found unlimited possibilities for development; 
it was not restricted by a scientific (that is, a disciplined) search 
for truth. In the second place, we notice that the realm of nature 
and the realm of man were not distinguished. 

The ancients, like the modem savages, saw man always as part 
of society, and society as imbedded in nature and dependent upon 
cosmic forces. For them nature and man did not stand in opposi- 
tion and did not, therefore, have to be apprehended by different 
modes of cognition. Wc shall see, in fact, in the course of this book, 
that natural phenomena were regularly conceived in terms of hu- 
man experience and that human experience was conceived in terms 
of cosmic events. We touch here upon a distinction between the 
ancients and us which is of the utmost significance for our inquiry. 

The fundamental difference between the attitudes of modern 
and ancient man as regards the surrounding world is this: for mod- 
ern, scientific man the phenomenal world is primarily an “It”; for 
ancient — and also for primitive — ^man it is a “Thou.” 

This formulation goes far beyond the usual “animistic” or “per- 
sonalistic” interpretations. It shows up, in fact, the inadequacies 
of these commonly accepted theoties. For a relation betw^een “I” 
and “Thou” is absolutely sui generis. We can best explain its unique 
quality by comparing it with two other modes of cognition: the 
relation between subject and object and the relation that exists 
when I “understand” another living being. 



The correlation “subject-object” is, of course, the basis of all 
scientific thinking; it alone makes scientific knowledge possible. 
The second mode of cognition is the curiously direct knowledge 
which we gain when we “understand” a creature confronting us — 
its fear, let us say, or its anger. This, by the way, is a form of 
knowledge which we have the honor of sharing with the animals. 

The differences between an I-and-Thou relationship and these 
two other relationships are as follows: In determining the identity 
of an object, a person is active. In “understanding” a fellow-crea- 
ture, on the other hand, a man or an animal is essentially passive, 
whatever his subsequent action may turn out to be. For at first he 
receives an impression. This type of knowledge is therefore di- 
rect, emotional, and inarticulate. Intellectual knowledge, on the 
contrary, is emotionally indifferent and articulate. 

Now the knowledge which “I” has of “Thou” hovers between 
the active judgment and the passive “undergoing of an impres- 
sion”; between the intellectual and the emotional, the articulate 
and the inarticulate. “Thou” may be problematic, yet “Thou” is 
somewhat transparent. “Thou” is a live presence, whose qualities 
and potentialities can be made somewhat articulate — ^not as a result 
of active inquiry but because “Thou,” as a presence, reveals itself. 

There is yet another important difference. An object, an “It,” 
can always be scientifically related to other objects and appear as 
part of a group or a series. In this manner science insists on seeing 
“It”; hence, science is able to comprehend objects and events as 
ruled by universal laws w’hich make their behavior under given 
circumstances predictable. “Thou,” on the other hand, is unique. 
“Thou” has the unprecedented, unparalleled, and unpredictable 
character of an individual, a presence known only in so far as it re- 
veals itself. “Thou,” moreover, is not merely contemplated or 
understood but is experienced emotionally in a dynamic reciprocal 
relationship. For these reasons there is justification for the 
aphorism of Crawley: “Primitive man has only one mode of 
thought, one mode of expression, one part of speech — the person- 
al.” This does not mean (as is so often thought) that primitive 
man, in order to explain natural phenomena, imparts human char- 
acteristics to an inanimate world. Primitive man simply does not 
know an inanimate world. For this very reason he does not “per- 


sonify” inanimate phenomena nor does he fill an empty world 
with the ghosts of the dead, as “animism” would have us believe. 

The world appears to primitive man neither inanimate nor emp- 
ty but redundant with life; and life has individuality, in man and 
beast and plant, and in every phenomenon which confronts man — 
the thunderclap, the sudden shadow, the eerie and unknown clear- 
ing in the wood, the stone which suddenly hurts him when he stum- 
bles while on a hunting trip. Any phenomenon may at any time face 
him, not as “It,” but as “Thou.” In this confrontation, “Thou” 
reveals its individuality, its qualities, its will. “Thou” is not con- 
templaited with intellectual detachment; it is experienced as life 
confronting life, involving every faculty of man in a reciprocal re- 
lationship. Thoughts, no less than acts and feelings, are subordi- 
nated to this experience. 

We are here concerned particularly with thought. It is likely 
that the ancients recognized certain intellectual problems and 
asked for the “why” and “how,” the “where from” and “where 
to.” Even so, we cannot expect in the ancient Near Eastern docu- 
ments to find speculation in the predominantly intellectual form 
with which we are familiar and which presupposes strictly logical 
procedure even while attempting to transcend it. We have seen 
that in the ancient Near East, as in present-day primitive society, 
thought does not operate autonomously. The whole man confronts 
a living “Thou” in nature; and the whole man— emotional and 
imaginative as well as intellectual — gives expression to the experi- 
ence. All experience of “Thou” is highly individual; and early 
man does, in fact, view happenings as individual events. An ac- 
count of such events and also their explanation can be conceived 
only as action and necessarily take the form of a story. In other 
words, the ancients told myths instead of presenting an analysis 
or conclusions. We would explain, for instance, that certain at- 
mospheric changes broke a drought and brought about rain. The 
Babylonians observed the same facts but experienced them as the 
intervention of the gigantic bird Imdugud which came to their res- 
cue. It covered the sky with the black storm clouds of its wings 
and devoured the Bull of Heaven, whose hot breath had scorched 
the crops. 



In telling such a myth, the ancients did not intend to provide en- 
tertainment. Neither did they seek, in a detached way and without 
ulterior motives, for intelligible explanations of the nararal phe- 
nomena. They were recounting events in which they were involved 
to the extent of their very existence. They experienced, directly, a 
conflict of powers, one hostile to the harvest upon which they de- 
pended, the other frightening but beneficial: the thunderstorm re- 
prieved them in the nick of time by defeating and utterly destroy- 
ing the drought. The images had already become traditional at the 
time when we meet them in art and literature, but originally they 
must have been seen in the revelation which the experience en- 
tailed. They are products of imagination, but they are not mere 
fantasy. It is essential that true myth be distinguished from legend, 
saga, fable, and fairy tale. All these may retain elements of the 
myth. And it may also happen that a baroque or frivolous imagina- 
tion elaborates myths until they become mere stories. But true 
myth presents its images and its imaginary actors, not with the 
playfulness of fantasy, but with a compelHng authority. It per- 
petuates the revelation of a “Thou.” 

The imagery of myth is therefore by no means allegory. It is 
nothing less than a carefully chosen cloak for abstract thought. 
The imagery is inseparable from the thought. It represents the 
form in which the experience has become conscious. 

Myth, then, is to be taken seriously, because it reveals a signifi- 
cant, if unverifiable, truth — we might say a metaphysical truth. But 
myth has not the universality and the lucidity of theoretical state- 
ment. It is concrete, though it claims to be inassailable in its valid- 
ity. It claims recognition by the faithful; it does not pretend to 
justification before the critical 

The irrational aspect of myth becomes especially clear when 
we remember that the ancients were not content merely to recount 
their myths as stories conveying information. They dramatized 
them, acknowledging in them a special virme which could be ac- 
tivated by recital. 

Of the dramatization of myth. Holy Communion is a well- 
known example. Another example is found in Babylonia. During 
each New Year’s festival the Babylonians re-enacted the victory 
which Marduk had won over the powers of chaos on the first New 


Year’s Day, when the world was created. At the annual festival 
the Epic of Creation was recited. It is clear that the Babylonians 
did not regard their story of creation as we might accept the theory 
of Laplace, for instance, as an intellectually satisfying account of 
how the world came to be as it is. Ancient man had not thought 
out an answer; an answer had been revealed to him in a reciprocal 
relationship with nature. If a question had been answered, man 
shared that answer with the “Thou” which had revealed itself. 
Hence, it seemed wise that man, each year, at the critical turn 
of the seasons, should proclaim the knowledge which he shared 
with the powers, in order to involve them once more in its potent 

We may, then, summarize the complex character of myth in the 
following words: Myth is a form of poetry which transcends 
poetry in that it proclaims a truth; a form of reasoning which tran- 
scends reasoning in that it wants to bring about the truth it pro- 
claims; a form of action, of ritual behavior, which does not find 
its fulfilment in the act but must proclaim and elaborate a poetic 
form of truth. 

It will now be clear why we said at the beginning of this chap- 
ter that our search for speculative thought in the ancient Near East 
might lead to negative results. The detachment of intellectual in- 
quiry is wanting throughout. And yet, within the framework of 
mythopoeic thought, speculation may set in. Even early man, en- 
tangled in the immediacy of his perceptions, recognized the ex- 
istence of certain problems which transcend the phenomena. He 
recognized the problem of origin and the problem of telos, of the 
aim and purpose of being. He recognized the invisible order of jus- 
tice maintained by his customs, mores, institutions; and he con- 
nected this invisible order with, the visible order, with its succes- 
sion of days and nights, seasons and years, obviously maintained 
by the sun. Early man even pondered the hierarchy of the differ- 
ent powers which he recognized in nature. In the Memphite The- 
ology, which will be discussed in chapter ii, the Egyptians, at one 
point, reduced the multiplicity of the divine to a truly monothe- 
istic conception and spiritualized the concept of creation. Never- 



theless, they spoke the language of myth. The teachings of such 
documents can be termed “speculative” in recognition of their in- 
tention, if not of their performance. 

To give an example, let us anticipate our colleagues and con- 
sider various possible answers to the question of how the world 
came into being. Some modern primitives, the Shilluk, in many re- 
spects related to the ancient Egyptians, give the following answer 
to this question: “In the beginning was Ju-ok the Great Creator, 
and he created a great white cow who came up out of the Nile and 
was called Deung Adok. The white cow gave birth to a man-child 
whom she nursed and named Kola.”^ Of such a story (and there 
are many of this type) we can say that apparently any form which 
relates the coming into being as a concretely imagined event satis- 
fies the inquirer. There is no shadow of speculative thought here. 
Instead there is immediacy of vision — concrete, unquestioned, in- 

We move one step farther if the creation is imagined, not in a 
purely fantastic manner, but by analogy with human conditions. 
Creation is then conceived as birth; and the simplest form is the 
postulate of a primeval couple as the parents of all that exists. It 
seems that for the Egyptians, as for the Greeks and the Maoris, 
Earth and Sky were the primeval pair. 

The next step, this time one which leads in the direction of 
speculative thought, is taken when creation is conceived as the ac- 
tion of one of the parents. It may be conceived of as birth by a 
Great Mother, either a goddess, as in Greece, or a demon, as in 
Babylonia. Alternatively it is possible to conceive creation as the 
act of a male. In Egypt, for instance, the god Atum arose unaided 
from the primeval waters and started the creation of cosmos out of 
chaos by begetting on himself the first pair of gods. 

In all these creation stories we remain in the realm of myth, 
even though an element of speculation can be discerned. But we 
move into the sphere of speculative thought — albeit mythopoeic 
speculative thought — when it is said that Atum was the Creator; 
that his eldest children were Shu and Tefnut, Air and Moismre; 
that their children were Geb and Nut, Earth and Sky; and their 
children, again, the four gods of the Osiris cycle through whom 


(since Osiris was the dead king as well as god) society is related 
to the cosmic powers. In this story of creation we find a definite 
cosmological system as the outcome of speculation. 

Nor does this remain an isolated instance in Egypt. Even chaos 
itself became a subject of speculation. It was said that the primeval 
waters were inhabited by eight weird creatures, four frogs and 
four snakes, male and female, who brought forth Atum the sun- 
god and creator. This group of eight, this Ogdoad, was part, not of 
the created order, but of chaos itself, as the names show. The first 
pair was Nun and Naunet, primeval, formless Ocean and primeval 
Matter; the second pair was Huh and Hauhet, the Illimitable 
and the Boundless. Then came Kuk and Kauket, Darkness and 
Obscurity; and, finally, Amon and Amaunet, the Hidden and Con- 
cealed ones — ^probably the wind. For the wind “bloweth where it 
listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence 
it cometh and whither it goeth” (John 3:8). Here, surely, is spec- 
ulative thought in mythological guise. 

We also find speculative thought in Babylonia, where chaos is 
conceived, not as a friendly and co-operative Ogdoad which brings 
forth the creator, Sun, but as the enemy of life and order. After 
Ti^amat, the Great Mother, had given birth to countless beings, 
including the gods, the latter, under the guidance of Marduk, 
fought a critical battle in which she was overcome and destroyed. 
And out of her the existing universe was constructed. The Baby- 
lonian placed that conflict at the basis of existence. 

Throughout the ancient Near East, then, we find speculative 
thought in the form of myth. We have seen how the attitude of 
early man toward the phenomena explains his mythopoeic form of 
thought. But, in order to understand its peculiarities more fully, 
we should consider the form it takes in somewhat greater detail. 


We have hitherto been at pains to show that for primitive man 
thoughts are not autonomous, that they remain involved in the curi- 
ous attimde toward the phenomenal world which we have called a 
confrontation of life with life. Indeed, we shall find that our cate- 
gories of intellecmal judgment often do not apply to the complexes 
of cerebration and volition which constitute mythopoeic thought. 



And yet the word “logic” as used above is justified. The ancients 
expressed their “emotional thought” (as we might call it) in terms 
of cause and eifect; they explained phenomena in terms of time 
and space and number. The form of their reasoning is far less alien 
to ours than is often believed. They could reason logically; but 
they did not often care to do it. For the detachment which a purely 
intellectual attitude implies is hardly compatible with their most 
significant experience of reality. Scholars who have proved at 
length that primitive man has a “prelogical” mode of thinking are 
likely to refer to magic or religious practice, thus forgetting that 
they apply the Kantian categories, not to pure reasoning, but to 
highly emotional acts. 

We shall find that if we attempt to define the structure of mytho- 
poeic thought and compare it with that of modern (that is, scien- 
tific) thought, the differences will prove to be due rather to emo- 
tional attitude and intention than to a so-called prelogical mental- 
ity. The basic distinction of modem thought is that between sub- 
jective and objective. On this distinction scientific thought has based 
a critical and analytical procedure by which it progressively re- 
duces the individual phenomena to typical events subject to uni- 
versal laws. Thus it creates an increasingly wide gulf between our 
perception of the phenomena and the conceptions by which we 
make them comprehensible. We see the sun rise and set, but we 
think of the earth as moving round the sun. We see colors, but we 
describe them as wave-lengths. We dream of a dead relative, but 
we think of that distinct vision as a product of our own subcon- 
scious minds. Even if we individually are unable to prove these 
almost unbelievable scientific views to be true, we accept them, 
because we know that they can be proved to possess a greater 
degree of objectivity than our sense-impressions. In the immediacy 
of primitive experience, however, there is no room for such a criti- 
cal resolution of perceptions. Primitive man cannot withdraw from 
the presence of the phenomena because they reveal themselves to 
him in the ma n ner we have described. Hence the distinction be- 
tween subjective and objective knowledge is meaningless to him. 

Meaningless, also, is our contrast between reality and appear- 
ance. Whatever is capable of affecting mind, feeling, or will has 
thereby established its undoubted reality. There is, for instance, no 


reason why dreams should be considered less real than impressions 
received while one is awake. On the contrary, dreams often af- 
fect one so much more than the humdrum events of daily life that 
they appear to be more, and not less, significant than the usual per- 
ceptions. The Babylonians, like the Greeks, sought divine guid- 
ance by passing the night in a sacred place hoping for a revelation 
in dreams. And pharaohs, too, have recorded that dreams induced 
them to undertake certain works. Hallucinations, too, are real. 
We find in the official annals of Assarhaddon of Assyria* a record of 
fabulous monsters — nvo-headed serpents and green, winged crea- 
tures — which the exhausted troops had seen in the most trying sec- 
tion of their march, the arid Sinai Desert. We may recall that the 
Greeks saw the Spirit of the Plain of Marathon arisen in the fate- 
ful battle against the Persians. As to monsters, the Egyptians of 
the Middle Kingdom, as much horrified by the desert as are their 
modern descendants, depicted dragons, griffins, and chimeras 
among gazelles, foxes, and other desert game, on a footing of per- 
fect equality. 

Just as there was no sharp distinction among dreams, hallucina- 
tions, and ordinary vision, there was no sharp separation beween 
the living and the dead. The survival of the dead and their con- 
tinued relationship with man were assumed as a matter of course, 
for the dead were involved in the indubitable reality of man’s own 
anguish, expectation, or resentment. “To be effective” to the 
mythopoeic mind means the same as “to be.” 

Symbols are treated in the same way. The primitive uses sym- 
bols as much as we do; but he can no more conceive them as sig- 
nifying, yet separate from, the gods or powers than he can con- 
sider a relationship established in his mind — such as resemblance — 
as connecting, and yet separate from, the objects compared. Hence 
there is coalescence of the symbol and what it signifies, as there is 
coalescence of two objects compared so that one may stand for the 

In a similar manner we can explain the curious figure of thought 
pars pro toto, “a part can stand for the whole”; a name, a lock of 
hair, or a shadow can stand for the man because at any moment the 
lock of hair or shadow may be felt by the primitive to be pregnant 



with the full significance of the man. It may confront him with a 
“Thou” which bears the physiognomy of its owner. 

An example of the coalescence of a symbol and the thing it stands 
for is the treating of a person’s name as an essential part of him— 
as if it were, in a way, identical with him. We have a number of 
pottery bowls which Egyptian kings of the Middle Kingdom had 
inscribed with the names of hostile tribes in Palestine, Libya, and 
Nubia; the names of their rulers; and the names of certain rebel- 
lious Egyptians. These bowls were solemnly smashed at a 
rimal, possibly at the funeral of the king’s predecessor; and the 
object of this ritual was explicitly stated. It was that all these ene- 
mies, obviously out of the pharaoh’s reach, should die. But if we 
call the ritual act of the breaking of the bowls symbolical, we miss 
the point. The Egyptians felt that real harm was done to the ene- 
mies by the destruction of their names. The occasion was even 
used to cast a propitious spell of wider scope. After the names of 
the hostile men, who were enumerated “that they should die,” 
were added such phrases as: “all detrimental thought, all detri- 
mental talk, all detrimental dreams, all detrimental plans, all detri- 
mental strife,” etc. Mentioning these things on the bowls to be 
smashed diminished their actual power to hurt the king or lessen 
his authority. 

For us there is an essential difference between an act and a ritual 
or symbolical performance. But this distinction was meaningless 
to the ancients. Gudea, a Mesopotamian ruler, describing the 
founding of a temple, mentions in one breath that he molded a 
brick in clay, purified the site with fire, and consecrated the plat- 
form with oil. When the Egyptians claim that Osiris, and the 
Babylonians that Cannes, gave them the elements of their culture, 
they include among those elements the crafts and agriculture as 
well as ritual usages. These two groups of activities possess the 
same degree of reality. It would be meaningless to ask a Babyloni- 
an whether the success of the harvest depended on the skill of the 
farmers or on the correct performance of the New Year’s festival. 
Both were essential to success. 

Just as the imaginary is acknowledged as existing in reality, so 
concepts are likely to be substantialized. A man who has courage 


or eloquence possesses these qualities almost as substances of 
which he can be robbed or which he can share with others. The 
concept of “justice” or “equity” is in Egypt called m(f-at. The 
king’s mouth is the temple of mifat. M.(fat is personified as a god- 
dess; but at the same time it is said that the gods “live by 
This concept is represented quite concretely: in the daily ritual 
the gods are offered a figure of the goddess, together with the 
other material offerings, food and drink, for their sustenance. Here 
we meet the paradox of mythopoeic thought. Though it does not 
know dead matter and confronts a world animated from end to 
end, it is unable to leave the scope of the concrete and renders its 
own concepts as realities existing per se. 

An excellent example of this tendency toward concreteness is 
the primitive conception of death. Death is not, as for us, an event 
— the act or fact of dying, as Webster has it. It is somehow a sub- 
stantial reality. Thus we read in the Egyptian Pyramid Texts a 
description of the beginning of things which runs as follows: 

When heaven had not yet come into existence, 

When men had not yet come into existence, 

When gods had not yet been born, 

When death had not yet come into existence ^ 

In exactly the same terms the cupbearer Siduri pities Gilgamesh in 
the Epic: 

Gilgamesh, whither are yon wandering? 

Life, which you look for, you will never find. 

For when the gods created men, they let 
death be his share, and life 
withheld in their own hands. 

Note, in the first place, that life is opposed to death, thus ac- 
centuating the fact that life in itself is considered endless. Only 
the intervention of another phenomenon, death, makes an end to 
it. In the second place, we should note the concrete character at- 
tributed to life in the statement that the gods withheld life in their 
hands. In case one is inclined to see in this phrase a figure of speech, 
it is well to remember that Gilgamesh and, in another myth, 
Adapa are given a chance to gain eternal life simply by eating life 
as a substance. Gilgamesh is shown the “plant of life,” but a ser- 



pent robs him of it. Adapa is offered bread and water of life when 
he enters heaven, but he refuses it on the instruction of the wily 
god Enki. In both cases the assimilation of a concrete substance 
would have made the difference between death and immortality. 

We are touching here on the qategory of causality, which is as 
important for modem thought as the distinction between the sub- 
jective and the objective. If science, as we have said before, re- 
duces the chaos of perceptions to an order in which typical events 
take place according to universal laws, the instrument of this con- 
version from chaos to order is the postulate of causality. Primitive 
thought naturally recognized the relationship of cause and effect, 
but it cannot recognize our view of an impersonal, mechanical, and 
lawlike functioning of causality. For we have moved far from the 
world of immediate experience in our search for true causes, that 
is, causes which will always produce the same effect under the 
same conditions. We must remember that Newton discovered the 
concept of gravitation and also its laws by taking into account three 
groups of phenomena which are entirely unrelated to the merely 
perceptive observer; freely falling objects, the movements of the 
planets, and the alternation of the tides. Now the primitive mind 
cannot withdraw to that extent from perceptual reality. Moreover, 
it would not be satisfied by our ideas. It looks, not for the “how,” 
but for the “who,” when it looks for a cause. Since the phenomenal 
world is a “Thou” confronting early man, he does not expect to 
find an impersonal law regulating a process. He looks for a pur- 
poseful will committing an act. If the rivers refuse to rise, it is not 
suggested that the lack of rainfall on distant mountains adequately 
explains the calamity. When the river does not rise, it has refused 
to rise. The river, or the gods, must be angry with the people who 
depend on the inundation. At best the river or the gods intend to 
convey something to the people. Some action, then, is called for. 
We know that, when the Tigris did not rise, Gudea the king went 
to sleep in the temple in order to be instructed in a dream as to the 
meaning of the drought. In Egypt, where annual records of the 
heights of the Nile flood were kept from the earliest historical 
times, the pharaoh nevertheless made gifts to the Nile every year 
about the time when it was due to rise. To these sacrifices, which 


were thrown into the river, a document was added. It stated, in the 
form of either an order or a contract, the Nile’s obligations. 

Our view of causality, then, would not satisfy primitive man be- 
cause of the impersonal character of its explanations. It would nor 
satisfy him, moreover, because of its generality. We understand 
phenomena, not by what makes them peculiar, but by what makes 
them manifestations of general laws. But a general law cannot do 
justice to the individual character of each event, iknd the individ- 
ual character of the event is precisely what early man experiences 
most strongly. We may explain that certain physiological proc- 
esses cause a man’s death. Primitive man asks : Why should this 
man die thus at this moment? We can only say that, given these 
conditions, death will always occur. He wants to find a cause as 
specific and individual as the event which it must explain. The 
event is not analyzed inrellecmally ; it is experienced in its complex- 
ity and individuality, and these are matched by equally individual 
causes. Death is ivUled. The question, then, turns once more from 
the “why” to the “who,” not to the “how.” 

This explanation of death as willed differs from that given a 
moment ago, when it was viewed as almost substantialized and 
especially created. We meet here for the first time in these chap- 
ters a curious multiplicity of approaches to problems which is 
characteristic for the mythopoeic mind. In the Gilgamesh Epic 
death was specific and concrete; it was allotted to mankind. Its 
antidote, eternal life, was equally substantial : it could be assimi- 
lated by means of the plant of life. Now we have found the view 
that death is caused by volition. The two interpretations are not 
mutually exclusive, but they are nevertheless not so consistent 
with each other as we would desire. Primitive man, however, 
would not consider our objections valid. Since he does not isolate 
an event from its attending circumstances, he does not look for 
one single explanation which must hold good under all conditions. 
Death, considered with some detachment as a state of being, is 
viewed as a substance inherent in all who are dead or about to 
die. But death considered emotionally is the act of hostile will. 

The same dualism occurs in the interpretation of illness or sin. 
When the scapegoat is driven into the desert, laden with the sins 
of the community, it is evident that these sins are conceived as hav- 



ing substance. Early medical texts explain a fever as due to “hot” 
matter’s having entered a man’s body. Mythopoeic thought sub- 
stantializes a quality and posits some of its occurrences as causes, 
others as effects. But the heat that caused the fever may also have 
been “willed” upon the man by hostile magic or may have entered 
his body as an evil spirit. 

Evil spirits are often no more than the evil itself conceived as 
substantial and equipped with will-power. In a vague way they 
may be specified a little further as “spirits of the dead,” but often 
this explanation appears as a gratuitous elaboration of the original 
view, which is no more than the incipient personification of the 
evil. This process of personification may, of course, be carried 
much further when the evil in question becomes a focus of atten- 
tion and stimulates the imagination. Then we get demons with 
pronounced individuality like Lamashtu in Babylonia. The gods 
also come into being in this manner. 

We may even go further and say that the gods as personifica- 
tions of power among other things fulfil early man’s need for causes 
to explain the phenomenal world. Sometimes this aspect of their 
origin can still be recognized in the complex deities of later times. 
There is, for instance, excellent evidence that the great goddess 
Isis was, originally, the deified throne. We know that among 
modern Africans closely related to the ancient Egyptians the en- 
throning of the new ruler is die central act of the ritual of the suc- 
cession. The throne is a fetish charged with the mysterious power 
of kingship. The prince who takes his seat upon it arises a king. 
Hence the throne is called the “mother” of the king. Here personi- 
fication found a starting-point; a channel for emotions was pre- 
pared which, in its turn, led to an elaboration of myth. In this way 
Isis “the throne which made the king” became “the Great 
Mother,” devoted to her son Homs, faithful through all suffering 
to her husband Osiris — a figure with a powerful appeal to men 
even outside Egypt and, after Egypt’s decline, throughout the 
Roman Empire. 

The process of personification, however, only affects man’s 
attitude to a limited extent. Like Isis, the sky-goddess Nut was 
considered to be a loving mother-goddess; but the Egyptians of 
the New Kingdom arranged for their ascent to heaven without 


reference to her will or acts. They painted a life-sized figure of 
the goddess inside their coffins; the dead body was laid in her arms; 
and the dead man’s ascent to heaven was assured. For resemblance 
was a sharing of essentials, and Nut’s image coalesced with its 
prototype. The dead man in his coffin rested already in heaven. 

In every case where we would see no more than associations of 
thought, the mythopoeic mind finds a causal connection. Every re- 
semblance, every contact in space or time, establishes a connection 
between two objects or events which makes it possible to see in the 
one the cause of changes observed in the other. We must remember 
that mythopoeic thought does not require its explanation to repre- 
sent a continuous process. It accepts an initial situation and a final 
situation connected by no more than the conviction that the one 
came forth from the other. So we find, for instance, that the an- 
cient Egyptians as well as the modem Maori explain the present 
relation between heaven and earth in the following manner. Heaven 
was originally lying upon earth; but the two were separated, and 
the sky was lifted up to its present position. In New Zealand this 
was done by their son; in Egypt it was done by the god of the air, 
Shu, who is now between earth and sky. And heaven is depicted as 
a woman bending over the earth with outstretched arms while the 
god Shu supports her. 

Changes can be explained very simply as two different states, 
one of which is said to come forth from the other without any in- 
sistence on an intelligible process — in other words, as a transfor- 
mation, a metamorphosis. We find that, time and again, this device 
is used to account for changes and that no further explanation is 
then required. One myth explains why the sun, which counted as 
the first king of Egypt, should now be in the sky. It recounts that 
the sun-god Re became tired of humanity, so he seated himself upon 
the sky-goddess Nut, who changed herself into a huge cow standing 
four square over the earth. Since then the sun has been in the sky. 

The charming inconsequentiality of this story hardly allows us 
to take it seriously. But we are altogether inclined to take explana- 
tions more seriously than the facts they explain. Not so primitive 
man. He knew that the sun-god once ruled Egypt; he also knew 
that the sun was now in the sky. In the first account of the relation 
between sky and earth he explained how Shu, the air, came to be 



between sky and earth; in the last account he explained how the 
sun got to the sky and, moreover, introduced the well-known con- 
cept of the sky as a cow. All this gave him the satisfaction of feel- 
ing that images and known facts fell into place. That, after all, is 
what an explanation should achieve (cf. p. 16). 

The image of Re seated on the cow of heaven, besides illustrat- 
ing a nonspeculative type of causal explanation which satisfies the 
mythopoeic mind, illustrates a tendency of the ancients which we 
have discussed before. We have seen that they are likely to present 
various descriptions of identical phenomena side by side even 
though they are mutually exclusive. We have seen how Shu lifted 
the sky-goddess Nut from the earth. In a second story Nut rises 
by herself in the shape of a cow. This image of the sky-goddess is 
very common, especially when the accent lies on her aspect as 
mother-goddess. She is the mother of Osiris and, hence, of ail the 
dead; but she is also the mother who gives birth each evening to 
the stars, each morning to the sun. When ancient Egyptian thought 
turned to procreation, it expressed itself in images derived from 
cattle. In the myth of sun and sky the image of the sky-cow does 
not appear with its original connotation; the image of Nut as a cow 
evoked the picture of the huge animal rising and lifting the sun to 
heaven. When the bearing of the sun by Nut was the center of 
attention, the stm was called the “calf of gold” or “the bull.” 
But it was, of course, possible to consider the sky, not predomi- 
nantly in its relation to heavenly bodies or to the dead who are re- 
born there, but as a self-contained cosmic phenomenon. In that 
case Nut was described as a descendent of the creator Atum 
through his children, Shu and Tefnut, Air and Moisture. And she 
was, fothermore, wedded to the earth. If viewed in this manner. 
Nut was imagined in human form. 

We see, again, that the ancients’ conception of a phenomenon 
differed according to their approach to it. Modem scholars have 
reproached the Eg}7ptians for their apparent inconsistencies and 
have doubted their ability to think clearly. Such an attitude is sheer 
presumption. Once one recognizes the processes of ancient 
thought, their justification is apparent. After all, religious values 
are not reducible to rationalistic formulas. Natural phenomena, 
whether or not they were personified and became gods, confronted 


ancient man with a living presence, a significant “Thou,” which, 
again, exceeded the scope of conceptual definition. In such cases 
our flexible thought and language qualify and modify certain con- 
cepts so thoroughly as to make them suitable to carry our burden 
of expression and significance. The mythopoeic mind, tending to- 
ward the concrete, expressed the irrational, not in our man- 
ner, but by admitting the validity of several avenues of ap- 
proach at one and the same time. The Babylonians, for instance, 
worshiped the generative force in nature in several forms: its 
manifestation in the beneficial rains and thunderstorms was visual- 
ized as a lion-headed bird. Seen in the fertility of the earth, it be- 
came a snake. Yet in statues, prayers, and cult acts it was repre- 
sented as a god in human shape. The Egyptians in the earliest times 
recognized Horus, a god of heaven, as their main deity. He was 
imagined as a gigantic falcon hovering over the earth with out- 
stretched wings, the colored clouds of sunset and sunrise being his 
speckled breast and the sun and moon his eyes. Yet this god could 
also be viewed as a sun-god, since the sun, the most powerful 
thing in the sky, was namrally considered a manifestation of the 
god and thus confronted man with the same divine presence which 
he adored in the falcon spreading its wings over the earth. We 
should not doubt that mythopoeic thought fully recognizes the 
unity of each phenomenon which it conceives under so many dif- 
ferent guises; the many-sidedness of its images serves to do justice 
to the complexity of the phenomena. But the procedure of the 
mythopoeic mind in expressing a phenomenon by manifold images 
corresponding to unconnected avenues of approach clearly leads 
away from, rather than toward, our postulate of causality which 
seeks to discover identical causes for identical effects throughout 
the phenomenal world. 

We observe a similar contrast when we turn from the category 
of causality to that of space. Just as modem thought seeks to estab- 
lish causes as abstract functional relations between phenomena, so 
it views space as a mere system of relations and functions. Space is 
postulated by us to be infinite, continuous, and homogeneous— at- 
tributes which mere sensual perception does not reveal. But primi- 
tive thought cannot abstract a concept “space” from its experience 



of Space. And this experience consists in what we would call quali- 
fying associations. The spatial concepts of the primitive are con- 
crete orientations; they refer to localities which have an emotional 
color; they may be familiar or alien, hostile or friendly. Beyond 
the scope of mere individual experience the community is aware 
of certain cosmic events which invest regions of space with a par- 
ticular significance. Day and night give to east and west a correla- 
tion with life and death. Speculative thought may easily develop in 
connection with such regions as are outside direct experiences, for 
instance, the heavens or the nether world. Mesopotamian astrology 
evolved a very extensive system of correlations between heavenly 
bodies and events in the sky and earthly localities. Thus mytho- 
poeic thought may succeed no less than modern thought in estab- 
lishing a co-ordinated spatial system; but the system is determined, 
not by objective measurements, but by an emotional recognition 
of values. The extent to which this procedure determines the prim- 
itive view of space can best be illustrated by an example which will 
be met again in subsequent chapters as a remarkable instance of 
ancient speculation. 

In Egypt the creator was said to have emerged from the waters 
of chaos and to have made a mound of dry land upon which he 
could stand. This primeval hill, from which the creation took its 
beginning, was traditionally located in the sun temple at Heliopo- 
lis, the sun-god being in Egypt most commonly viewed as the cre- 
ator. However, the Holy of Holies of each temple was equally sa- 
cred; each deity was — by the very fact that he was recognized as 
divine — a source of creative power. Hence each Holy of Holies 
throughout the land could be identified with the primeval hill. 
Thus it is said of the temple of Philae, which was founded in the 
fourth century b.c.: “This [templej came into being when nothing 
at all had yet come into being and the earth was still lying in dark- 
ness and obscurity.” The same claim was made for other temples. 
The names of the great shrines at Memphis, Thebes, and Her- 
monthis explicitly stated that they were the “divine emerging 
primeval island” or used similar expressions. Each sancmary pos- 
sessed the essential quality of original holiness; for, when a new 
temple was founded, it was assumed that the potential sacredness 
of the site became manifest. The equation with the primeval hill 


received architectural expression also. One mounted a few steps or 
followed a ramp at every entrance from court or hall to the Holy 
of Holies, which was thus situated at a level noticeably higher than 
the entrance. 

But this coalescence of temples with the primeval hill does not 
give us the full measure of the significance which the sacred local- 
ity had assumed for the ancient Egyptians. The royal tombs were 
also made to coincide with it. The dead, and, above all, the king, 
were reborn in the hereafter. No place was more propitious, no 
site promised greater chances for a victorious passage through the 
crisis of death, than the primeval hill, the center of creative forces 
where the ordered life of the universe had begun. Hence the royal 
tomb was given the shape of a pyramid which is the Heliopolitan 
stylization of the primeval hill. 

To us this view is entirely unacceptable. In our continuous, 
homogeneous space the place of each locality is unambiguously 
fixed. We would insist that there must have been one single place 
where the first mound of dry land actually emerged from the cha- 
otic waters. But the Egyptian would have considered such objec- 
tions mere quibbles. Since the temples and the royal tombs were as 
sacred as the primeval hill and showed architectural forms which 
resembled the hill, they shared essentials. And it would be fatuous 
to argue whether one of these monuments could be called the pri- 
meval hill with more justification than the others. 

Similarly, the waters of chaos from which all life emerged were 
considered to be present in several places, sometimes playing their 
part in the economy of the country, sometimes necessary to round 
out the Egyptian image of the universe. The waters of chaos were 
supposed to subsist in the form of the ocean surrounding the earth, 
which had emerged from them and now floated upon them. Hence 
these waters were also present in the subsoil water. In the ceno- 
taph of Seti I at Abydos the coffin was placed upon an island with 
a double stair imitating the hieroglyph for the primeval hill; this 
island was surrounded by a channel filled always with subsoil 
water. Thus the dead king was buried and thought to rise again in 
the locality of creation. But the waters of chaos, the Nun, were 
also the waters of the nether world, which the sun and the dead 
have to cross. On the other hand, the primeval waters had once 



contained all the potentialities of life; and they were, therefore, 
also the waters of the annual inundation of the Nile which renews 
and revives the fertility of the fields. 

The mythopoeic conception of time is, like that of space, quali- 
tative and concrete, not quantitative and abstract. Mythopoeic 
thought does not know time as a uniform duration or as a succes- 
sion of qualitatively indifferent moments. The concept of time as 
it is used in our mathematics and physics is as unknown to early 
man as that which forms the framework of our history. Early man 
does not abstract a concept of time from the experience of time. 

It has been pointed out, for example, by Cassirer, that the time 
experience is both rich and subtle, even for quite primitive people. 
Time is experienced in the periodicity and rhythm of man’s own 
life as well as in the life of nature. Each phase of man’s life — child- 
hood, adolescence, maturity, old age — is a time with peculiar qual- 
ities. The transition from one phase to another is a crisis in which 
man is assisted by the community’s uniting in the rituals appropri- 
ate to birth, puberty, marriage, or death. Cassirer has called the 
peculiar view of time as a sequence of essentially different phases 
of life “biological time.” And the manifestation of time in namre, 
the succession of the seasons, and the movements of the heavenly 
bodies were conceived quite early as the signs of a life-process 
similar, and related, to that of man. Even so, they are not viewed 
as “natural” processes in our sense. When there is change, there 
is a cause; and a cause, as we have seen, is a will. In Genesis, for 
instance, we read that God made a covenant with the living crea- 
tures, promising not only that the flood would not recur but also 
that “while the earth remained!, seedtime and harvest, cold and 
heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 
8 : 22) . The order of time and the order of the life of nature (which 
are one) are freely granted by the God of the Old Testament in 
the fulness of his power; and when considered in their totality, 
as an established order, they are elsewhere, too, thought to be 
founded upon the willed order of creation. 

But another approach is also possible, an approach not toward 
the sequence of phases as a whole but toward the actual transition 
from one phase to another — the actual succession of phases. The 


varying length of the night, the ever changing spectacles of sun- 
rise and sunset, and the equinoctial storms do not suggest an auto- 
matic smooth alternation between the “elements” of mythopoeic 
time. They suggest a conflict, and this suggestion is strengthened 
by the anxiety of man himself, who is wholly dependent upon 
weather and seasonal changes. Wensinck has called this the “dra- 
matic conception of nature.” Each morning the sun defeats dark- 
ness and chaos, as he did on the day of creation and does, every 
year, on New Year’s Day. These three moments coalesce; they 
are felt to be essentially the same. Each sunrise, and each New 
Year’s Day, repeats the first sunrise on the day of creation; and 
for the mythopoeic mind each repetition coalesces with — is prac- 
tically identical with — the original event. 

We have here, in the category of time, a parallel to the phenome- 
non which we recognized in the category of space when we learned 
that certain archet3q)al localities, like the primeval hill, were 
thought to exist on several sites throughout the land because these 
sites shared with their prototype some of its overwhelmingly im- 
portant aspects. This phenomenon we called coalescence in space. 
An example of coalescence in time is an Egyptian verse which 
curses the enemies of the pharaoh. It must be remembered that the 
sun-god Re had been the first ruler of Egypt and that the pharaoh 
was, to the extent that he ruled, an image of Re. The verse says of 
the enemies of the king: “They shall be like the snake xApophis on 
New Year’s morning.”^ The snake Apophis is the hostile darkness 
which the sun defeats every night on his journey through the 
nether world from the place of sunset in the west to the place of 
sunrise in the east. But why should the enemies be like ApSphis on 
New Year’s morning? Because the notions of creation, daily sun- 
rise, and the beginning of the new annual cycle coalesce and cul- 
minate in the festivities of the New Year. Hence the New Year is 
invoked, that is, conjured up, to intensify the curse. 

Now this “dramatic conception of nature which sees every- 
where a strife between divine and demoniac, cosmic and chaotic 
powers” (Wensinck), does not leave man a mere spectator. He is 
too much involved in, his welfare depends too completely upon, 
the victory of the beneficial powers for him not to feel the need to 
participate on their side. Thus we find, in Egypt and Babylonia, 



that man — that is, man in society — accompanies the principal 
changes in nature with appropriate rituals. Both in Egypt and in 
Babylonia the New Year, for instance, was an occasion of elaborate 
celebrations in which the battles of the gods were mimed or in 
which mock-battles were fought. 

We must remember again that such rituals are not merely sym- 
bolical; they are part and parcel of the cosmic events; they are 
man’s share in these events. In Babylonia, from the third millen- 
nium down to Hellenistic times, we find a New Year’s festival 
which lasted several days. During the celebration the story of cre- 
ation was recited and a mock-battle was fought in which the king 
impersonated the victorious god. In Egypt we know mock-battles 
in several festivals which are concerned with the defeat of death 
and rebirth or resurrection: one took place at Abydos, during the 
annual Great Procession of Osiris; one took place on New Year’s 
Eve, at the erection of the Djed pillar; one was fought, at least in 
the time of Herodotus, at Papremis in the Delta. In these festivals 
man participated in the life of nature. 

Man also arranged his own life, or at least the life of the societ}' 
to which he belonged, in such a manner that a harmony with na- 
ture, a co-ordination of natural and social forces, gave added impems 
to his undertakings and increased his chances for success. The 
whole “science” of omens aims, of course, at this result. But there 
are also definite instances which illustrate the need of early man to 
act in unison with nature. In both Egypt and Babylon a king’s 
coronation was postponed until a new beginning in the cycle of na- 
ture provided a propitious starting-point for the new reign. In 
Egypt the time might be in the early summer, when the Nile began 
to rise, or in the autumn, when the inundation receded and the 
fertilized fields were ready to receive the seed. In Babylonia 
the king began his reign on New Year’s Day; and the inauguration 
of a new temple was celebrated only at that time. 

This deliberate co-ordination of cosmic and social events shows 
most clearly that time to early man did not mean a neutral and 
abstract frame of reference but rather a succession of recurring 
phases, each charged with a peculiar value and significance. Again, 
as in dealing with space, we find that there are certain “regions” of 
time which are withdrawn from direct experience and greatly 


stimulate speculative thought. They are the distant past and the 
future. Either of these may become normative and absolute; each 
then falls beyond the range of time altogether. The absolute past 
does not recede, nor do we approach the absolute future gradually. 
The “Kingdom of God” may at any time break into our present. 
For the Jews the future is normative. For the Egyptians, on the 
other hand, the past was normative; and no pharaoh could hope to 
achieve more than the establishment of the conditions “as they 
were in the time of Re, in the beginning.” 

But here we are touching on material which will be discussed in 
subsequent chapters. We have attempted to demonstrate how the 
“logic,” the peculiar structure, of mythopoeic thought can be de- 
rived from the fact that the intellect does not operate autonomous- 
ly because it can never do justice to the basic experience of early 
man, that of confrontation with a significant “Thou.” Hence when 
early man is faced by an intellectual problem within the many- 
sided complexities of life, emotional and volitional factors are 
never debarred; and the conclusions reached are not critical judg- 
ments but complex images. 

Nor can the spheres which these images refer to be neatly kept 
apart. We have intended in this book to deal successively with 
speculative thought concerning (1) the nature of the universe; 
(2) the function of the state; and (3) the values of life. But the 
reader will have grasped that this, our mild attempt to distinguish 
the spheres of metaphysics, politics, and ethics, is doomed to re- 
main a convenience without any deep significance. For the life of 
man and the function of the state are for mythopoeic thought im- 
bedded in nature, and the natural processes are affected by the acts 
of man no less than man’s life depends on his harmonious integra- 
tion with nature. The experiencing of this unity with the utmost 
intensity was the greatest good ancient oriental religion could be- 
stow. To conceive this integration in the form of intuitive imagery 
was the aim of the speculative thought of the ancient Near East. 


1 . Seligmann, in Fmrih Report of the Wellcome Tropical Research Labor atorks at the 
Gordofi Memorial College, Khartoum (London, 1911), VoL B : General Science, p. 219. 

2. 'D. D. Lnckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and ■Babylonia, VoL II, par* 558* 



3 . Sethe, Die altaegyptischen Pyramidentexte mch den Papiembd rucken und Photographl- 
en des Berliner Museums (Leipzig, 1908), par. 1466. 

4. Adolf Erman, Aegypten und aegyptisches Leben im Altertum, ed. Hermann 
Ranke (Tiibingen, 1923), p. 170. 


Cassirer, Ernst. Philosophie der symboUschm Formm 11: Das mythische Dmken, 
Berlin, 1925. 

Frankfort, Henri. Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern 
Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature, Chicago, 1948. 

Leeuw, G. van der. Religion in Essence and Manifestation: A Study in Phen&me^ 
nology. New York, 1938. 

Levy-Bruhl, L. Plonj) Natives Think. New York, 1926. 

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rationd Factor in the 
Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational. London, 1943 . 

Radin, Paul. Primitive Man as Philosopher. New York, 1927. 






T he separation of these chapters into the fields of Egypt, 
Mesopotamia, and the Hebrews is a necessary separation, 
because the three cultures exhibited their general uniformity in 
individual terms and with distinctly different developments. As 
the case was presented in the introductory chapter, the common 
attitude of mind toward the phenomena of the universe was gov- 
erning for each of the three separate treatments. It is no thesis in 
our material that the Egyptian phenomena were unique, even 
though our exclusive preoccupation with Egypt may seem to ig- 
nore the many elements common to Egypt and her neighbors. The 
common ground is the important consideration for those who wish 
to know something about the developing human mind rather than 
the mind of the Egyptian alone. We consider, then, that our docu- 
mentary material illustrates the early and preclassical mind with 
examples from one of the three cultures. 

Within that uniformity of viewpoint the cultures were different, 
as British culture differs from that of continental Europe or from 
that of the United States. Geography is not the sole determinant 
in matters of cultural differentiation, but geographic features are 
subject to description which is practically incontrovertible, so that 
a consideration of the geographic uniqueness of Egypt will suggest 
easily some of the factors of differentiation. Throughout the Near 
East there is a contrast between the desert and the sown land; 
Egypt had and still has a concentration of that contrast. 

The essential part of Egypt is a green gash of teeming life cut- 
ting across brown desert wastes. The line of demarcation between 
life and nonlife is startlingly clear: one may stand at the edge of 
the cultivation with one foot on the irrigated black soil and one 
foot on the desert sands. The country is essentially rainless; only 

31 : ^ 


the waters of the Nile make life possible where otherwise there 
would be endless wastes of sand and rock. 

But what a life the Nile makes possible! The little agricultural 
villages contract themselves within smallest compass, in order 
not to encroach upon the fertile fields of rice, cotton, wheat, or 
sugar cane. When properly cared for, the land can yield tw’o crops 
a year. Normally Egypt has a very comfortable surplus of agricul- 
tural produce for export. 

This richness is confined to the green Nile Valley. Only 3 .5 per 
cent of the modem state of Egypt is cultivable and habitable. The 
remaining 96.5 per cent is barren and uninhabitable desert. Today 
perhaps 99.5 per cent of the population lives on the 3.5 per cent of 
the land which will support population. That means an even great- 
er contrast between the desert and the sown, and it means that on 
the cultivable land there is a concentration of people close to the 
saturation point. Today habitable Egypt has over 1,200 persons to 
the square mile. The figures for Belgium, the most densely popu- 
lated country of Europe, are about 700 to the square mile; for 
Java, about 900 to the square mile. The density of population in 
modern Egypt is therefore so great that the concentration ap- 
proaches that of an industrial and urban country rather than that 
of an agricultural and rustic country. Yet Egypt, with her fertile 
soil, is always essentially agricultural. 

No figures are available for ancient Egypt, of course, and the 
population could not have been as great as today; but the main 
features were surely the same as at the present: a hermetically 
sealed tube containing a concentration of life close to the satura- 
tion point. The two features of isolation and semiurban population 
combine to make Egypt different from her neighbors. At the pres- 
ent day the Arabs of Palestine and of Iraq concede the general 
cultural leadership of Egypt, as being the most sophisticated of 
the Arab countries; and yet they do not feel that the Egyptians are 
truly Arabs. The Egyptians are not subject to the great conserva- 
tive control of the Arabian Desert. The deserts adjacent to Pales- 
tine and Iraq are potential breeding-grounds for fierce and puritani- 
cal elements in the populations of those countries. Egypt, with her 
agricultural wealth and with her people lying cheek by jowl, de- 
veloped an early sophistication, which expressed itself intellectual- 



ly in tendencies toward catholicity and syncretism. Within Egypt 
the most divergent concepts were tolerantly accepted and woven 
together into what we modems might regard as a clashing philo- 
sophical lack of system, but which to the ancient was inclusive. 
The way of the Semite, who held a contact with the desert, was to 
cling fiercely to tradition and to resist innovations, which changed 
the purity and simplicity of life. The way of the Egyptian was to 
accept innovations and to incorporate them into his thought, with- 
out discarding the old and outmoded. This means that it is impos- 
sible to find in ancient Egypt a system in our sense, orderly and 
consistent. Old and new lie blandly together like some surrealist 
picture of youth and age on a single face. 

However, if the ancient Egyptian was tolerant of divergent con- 
cepts, it does not necessarily follow that he was tolerant of other 
peoples. He was semiurban and sophisticated of mind and felt for- 
eigners to be rustic and uninitiated. He was cut olF from his neigh- 
bors by sea and desert and felt that he could afford a superior iso- 
lationism. He made a distinction between “men,” on the one hand, 
and Libyans or ^Asiatics or Africans, on the other.^ The word 
“men” in that sense meant Egyptians: otherwise it meant “hu- 
mans” in distinction to the gods, or “humans” in distinction to ani- 
mals. In other words, the Egyptians were “people”; foreigners 
were not. At a time of national distress, when the stable old order 
had broken down and social conditions were upside-down, there 
was a complaint that “strangers from outside have come into 

Egypt Foreigners have become people everywhere.”^ The 

concept that only our group is “folks,” that outsiders lack some- 
thing of humanity, is not confined to the modem world. 

However, the Egyptian isolationist or nationalist feeling was a 
matter of geography and of manners rather than of racial theory 
and dogmatic xenophobia. “The people” were those who lived in 
Egypt, without distinction of race or color. Once a foreigner came 
to reside in Egypt, learned to speak Egyptian, and adopted Egyp- 
tian dress, he might finally be accepted as one of “the people” and 
was no longer the object of superior ridicule. Asiatics or Libyans 
or Negroes might be accepted Egyptians of high position when 
they had become acclimatized— might, indeed, rise to the highest 
position of all, that of the god-king who possessed the nation. The 


same Egyptian word means the “land” of Egypt and the “earth.” 
It is correct to say that, when any element was within this land, it 
merited full and tolerant acceptance. 

The ancient Egyptian’s sense that his land was the one land that 
really mattered was fostered by a knowledge that those other 
countries with which he had immediate contact were not so fully 
developed in culture as his own. Babylonia and the Hittite region 
were too distant for proper comparison, but the near-by lands of 
the Libyans, the Nubians, and the Asiatic Bedouins were clearly 
inferior in cultural development. Palestine and Syria were some- 
times colonized by Egypt, or were sometimes under Egyptian cul- 
tural and commercial leadership. Until the Assyrians and Persians 
and Greeks finally came in conquering domination, it was possible 
for the Egyptian to feel a comforting sense that his civilization was 
superior to all others. An Egyptian story puts into the mouth of a 
Syrian prince this sweeping statement to an envoy w^ho had come 
to him from the land of the Nile: “For (the imperial god) Amon 
founded all lands. He founded them, but first he founded the land 
of Egypt, from which thou hast come. For skilled work came forth 
from it to reach this place where I am, and teaching came from it 
to reach this place where I am.”® Because the source is Egyptian, 
we cannot be sure that a prince of Syria actually did say such words, 
acknowledging Egjrptian leadership in learning and craftsmanship, 
but this story from Egypt carries the assurance that it was a com- 
forting doctrine to those who believed themselves to live at the 
center of the world. 

Thus it may be claimed that the physical isolation of Egypt 
from other lands produced a self-centered feeling of separateness, 
within which Egypt had an intellecmal development of diverse ele- 
ments in admixture. It is our part to try to resolve some of these 
seeming incongruities into a semblance of order which the reader 
will be able to grasp. To be sure, it is unjust to leave an impression 
that there was anarchical chaos; no people could maintain a way 
of life for two thousand visible years without established founda- 
tions. We shall find foundation stones and a sensible structure ris- 
ing from those stones; but it is sometimes puzzling to a visitor to 
find a front door on each of four sides of a building. 



Let us return again to the geography of Egypt. We have the pic- 
ture of the green gash of life cutting through the brown stretches 
of nonlife. Let us examine the mechanics of the Egyptian scene. 
The Nile cuts north out of Africa, surmounts five rocky cataracts, 
and finally empties into the Mediterranean. These cataracts form 
the barriers of Egypt against the Hamitic and Negro peoples to 
the south just as effectively as the deserts and the sea bar Libyan 
and Semitic peoples to the north, east, and west. In the morning 
the sun rises in the east, it crosses the sky by day, and it sets in 
the west in the evening. Of course, you know that; but it is im- 
portant enough in Egypt to deserve repeated mention, because the 
daily birth, journey, and death of the sun were dominating fea- 
tures of Egyptian life and thought. In a country essentially rain- 
less, the daily circuit of the sun is of blazing importance. We 
might think that there was too much sun in Egypt, that shade was 
a welcome necessity; but the Egyptian hated the darkness and the 
cold and stretched himself happily to greet the rising sun. He saw 
that the sun was the source of his life. At night “the earth is in 
darkness, as if it were dead.”^ So the personification of the sun’s 
power, the sun-god, was the supreme god and the creator-god. 

It is curious that the Egyptians gave relatively little credit to 
another force — the wind. The prevailing wind in Egypt comes 
from the north, across the Mediterranean and then down the trough 
of the Nile Valley. It mitigates the unceasing heat of the sun and 
makes Egypt an easier place in which to live; it contrasts with 
those hot dry winds of late spring, which bring sandstorms and a 
brittle heat out of Africa to the south. This north wind was good, 
and the Egyptians expressed their appreciation and made it into a 
minor divinity; but, relative to the all-pervading power of the 
sun, the wind was practically ignored. 

It is somewhat different in the case of the Nile. The river was so 
obvious a source of life that it had its appreciated place in the 
scheme of things, even though it also could not compete with the 
sun for position. The Nile had a cycle of birth and death on an an- 
nual basis, which corresponded to the daily birth and death of the 
sun. In the summer the river lies quiet and slow between its shrunk- 
en banks, while the fields beside it parch’and turn to dust and blow 


away toward the desert. Unless water can be raised by a series of 
lifts from the river or from very deep wells, agricultural growth 
comes to a standstill, and people and cattle grow thin and torpidly 
look upon the face of famine. 

Then, just as life is at its lowest ebb, the Nile River stirs slug- 
gishly and shows a pulse of power. Through the summer it swells 
slowly but with increasing momentum until it begins to race with 
mighty waters, burst its banks, and rush over the miles of flat land 
lying on each side. Great stretches of moving, muddy water cover 
the land. In a year of a high Nile they encroach upon the little vil- 
lage islands standing up out of the fields, nibble at the mud-brick 
houses, and bring some of them tumbling down. From inert, dusty 
w'astes, the land has turned to a great shallow stream, which car- 
ries a refertilizing load of silt. Then the peak of the flood passes, 
and the w'aters become more sluggish. Out of the flooded stretches 
there appear little peaks of soil, refreshed wfith new, fertile mud. 
The torpor of men disappears; they -wade out into the thick mud 
and begin eagerly sowing their first crop of clover or grain. Life 
has come again to Egypt. Soon a broad green carpet of growing 
fields will complete the annual miracle of the conquest of life over 

These, then, were the two central features of the Egyptian 
scene: the triumphant daily rebirth of the sun and the triumphant 
annual rebirth of the river. Out of these miracles the Eg}'ptians 
dretv their assurance that Egypt w'as the center of the universe and 
their assurance that renewed life may always be victorious over 

It is necessary to make some qualification to a picture which 
has been presented in terms of a free gift of life and fertility. 
Egypt was rich but not prodigal: the fruit did not drop from the 
trees for indolent farmers. The sun and the Nile did combine to 
bring forth renewed life, but only at the cost of a battle against 
death. The sun warmed, but in the summer it also blasted. The Nile 
brought fertilizing water and soil, but its annual inundation %vas an- 
tic and unpredictable. An exceptionally high Nile destroyed canals, 
dams, and the homes of men. An exceptionally low' Nile brought 
famine. The inundation came quickly and moved on quickly; con- 
stant, back-breaking work was necessary to catch, hold, and dole 



out the waters for the widest and longest use. The desert was al- 
ways ready to nibble away at the cultivation and turn fertile silt 
into arid sand. The desert in particular was a terrible place of 
venomous serpents, lions, and fabulous monsters. In the broad 
muddy stretches of the Delta, jungle-like swamps had to be drained 
and cleared to make arable fields. For more than a third of every 
year the hot desert winds, the blasting sun, and the low Nile 
brought the land within sight of death, until the weather turned 
and the river brought abundant waters again. Thus Egypt was rich 
and blessed in contrast with her immediate neighbors, but within 
her own territory she experienced struggle, privations, and dangers 
which made the annual triumph real. There was a sense that the 
triumph was not an automatic privilege but that it must be earned 
at some cost. 

We have already suggested that the Egyptians were self-cen- 
tered and had their own satisfied kind of isolationism. We have 
said that they used the word “humans” to apply to Egyptians in 
distinction from foreigners. The concept that Egypt was the focal 
center of the universe set the standard for what was right and 
normal in the universe in terms of what was normal in Egypt. The 
central feature of Egypt is the Nile, flowing north and bringing the 
necessary water for life. They therefore looked at other peoples 
and other existences in terms of their own scene. The Egyptian 
word “to go north” is the Egyptian word “to go downstream,” 
and the w'ord “to go south” is the word “to go upstream,” against 
the current. When the Egyptians met another river, the Euphrates, 
which flowed south instead of north, they had to express the sense 
of contrast by calling it “that circling water which goes down- 
stream in going upstream,” which may also be translated “that in- 
verted water which goes downstream by going south.”® 

Navigation on the Nile employed the power of the current in 
moving north. In moving south, boats raised the sail in order to 
take advantage of the prevailing north wind, which would push 
them against the current. Since this was normal, it became the ideal 
for any world, including the afterlife. Into their tombs the Egyp- 
tians put two model boats, which might be projected by magic into 
the next world for navigation there. One boat had the sail down, 
for sailing north with the current on the waters of the other world; 


one boat had the sail up for sailing south with that north wind 
which must be normal in any proper existence, here or hereafter. 

So, too, rain could be understood only in terms of the waters 
which came to Egypt. Addressing the god, the Egyptian worshiper 
acknowledged his goodness to Egypt: “Thou makest the Nile in 
the lower world and bringest it whither thou wilt, in order to sus- 
tain mankind, even as thou hast made them.” Then, in an unusual 
interest in foreign lands, the worshiper went on: “Thou makest 
that whereon ail distant countries live. Thou hast put (another) 
Nile in the sky, so that it may come down for them, and may make 
waves upon the mountains like a sea, in order to moisten their 
fields in their townships. .... The Nile in the sky, thou appoint- 
est it for the foreign peoples and (for) all the beasts of the high- 
land which walk upon feet, whereas the (real) Nile, it comes from 
the lower world for (the people of) Egypt.”® If we reverse our 
concept that water normally falls from the skies and accept as ap- 
propriate a system in which water comes up from caverns below 
to be the only proper sustainer of life, then we will refer to rain in 
our own terms. It is then not the case that Egypt is a rainless coun- 
try but rather it is the case that other countries have their Nile 
falling from the skies. 

In the quotation just given there is a significant grouping of for- 
eign peoples and the beasts of the highland. I do not mean that it is 
significant in coupling barbarians with cattle, although that has a 
minor implication. It is rather that these two had their habitat in 
regions which were similarly conceived in their contrast to the 
Nile Valley. Egypt was a flat pancake of fertile black soil (==). 
Every foreign country consisted of corrugated ridges of red sand. 
The same hieroglyphic sign was used for “foreign country” that 
was used for “highland” or for “desert” (a^); a closely sim- 
ilar sign was used for “mountain” (aJ), because the mountain 
ridges which fringed the Nile Valley were also desert and also 
foreign. Thus the Egyptian pictorially grouped the foreigner with 
the beast of the desert and pictorially denied to the foreigner the 
blessings of fertility and uniformity. 

Just as people from our own western plains feel shut in if they 
visit the hills of New England, so the Egyptian had a similar claus- 
trophobia about any country where one could not look far across 



the plain, where one could not see the sun in all its course. One 
Egyptian scribe wrote to another: “Thou hast not trodden the 
road to Meger (in Syria), in which the sky is dark by day, which 
is overgrown with cypresses, oaks, and cedars that reach the 
heavens. There are more lions there than panthers or hyenas, and 
it is surrounded by Bedouin on (every) side. .... Shuddering 
seizes thee, (the hair of) thy head stands on end, and thy soul lies 
in thy hand. Thy path is filled with boulders and pebbles, and there 
is no passable track, for it is overgrown with reeds, thorns, bram- 
bles, and wolf’s pad. The ravine is on one side of thee, while the 
mountain rises on the other.”^ 

A similar sense that a land of mountains, rain, and trees is a dis- 
mal place comes out in the words: “The miserable Asiatic, it goes 
ill with the land where he is, (a land) troubled with water, inac- 
cessible because of the many trees, with its roads bad because of 
the mountains.” Just as this land was wrong in every respect, so the 
miserable Asiatic was unaccountable: “He does not live in a single 
place, but his feet wander. He has been fighting since the time of 
Horus, but he conquers not, nor is he conquered, and he never an- 
nounces the day in fighting He may plunder a lonely settle- 
ment, but he will not take a populous city Trouble thyself 

not about him: he is (only) an Asiatic.”® Our own standard of life 
is the one which we apply to others, and on the basis of this stand- 
ard we find them wanting. 

There is another topographical feature of the Nile Valley which 
finds its counterpart in the Egyptian psychology. That is the uni- 
formity of landscape. Down the center of the land cuts the Nile. 
On each bank the fertile fields stretch away, with the west bank 
the counterpart of the east. Then comes the desert, climbing up 
into two mountain fringes lining the valley. Again, the western 
mountain desert is the counterpart of the eastern. Those who live 
on the black soil look out through the clear air and see practically 
the same scene everywhere. If they travel a day’s journey to the 
south or two days’ journey to the north, the scene is much the 
same. Fields are broad and level; trees are rare or small; there is 
no exceptional break in the vista, except where some temple has 
been erected by man, or except in the two mountain ranges, which 
are really the outer limits of Egypt. 


In the broad reaches of the Delta the uniformity is even more 
striking. There the flat stretches of fields move on monotonously 
without feature. The only land which matters in Egypt has uni- 
formity and it has symmetry. 

The interesting result of uniformity is the way in which it ac- 
centuates any exceptional bit of relief that happens to break the 
monotonous regularity. Out in the desert one is conscious of every 
hillock, of every spoor of an animal, of every desert duststorm, of 
every bit of movement. The rare irregular is very striking in an 
environment of universal regularity. It has animation; it has life 
within the dominating pattern of nonlife. So also in Egypt the pre- 
vailing uniformity of landscape threw into high relief anything 
which took exception to that uniformity. A solitary tree of some 
size, a peculiarly shaped hill, or a storm-cut valley was so excep- 
tional that it took on individuality. Man who lived close to nature 
endowed the exceptional feature with animation; it became in- 
spirited to his mind. 

The same attitude of mind looked upon the animals which moved 
through the scene; the falcon floating in the sky with no more ap- 
parent motive power than the sun; the jackal flitting ghostlike 
along the margin of the desert; the crocodile lurking lumplike on 
the mudflats; or the powerful bull in whom was the seed of pro- 
creation. These beasts were forces going beyond the normality of 
landscape; they were forces which transcended the minimal ob- 
served natures of animals. They therefore took on high relief in 
the scene and were believed to be vested with mysterious or in- 
scrutable force related to an extra-human world. 

This may be an oversimplification of ancient man’s animistic 
outlook on nature. Of course, it is true that any agricultural people 
has a feeling for the force that works in nature and comes to per- 
sonalize each separate force. And before there were naturalists to 
explain the mechanism of plants and animals, to reason out the 
chain of cause and effect in the behavior of other things in our 
world, man’s only yardstick of normality was humanity: what he 
knew in himself and in his own experience was human and normal; 
deviations from the normal were extra-human and tlius potentially 
superhuman. Therefore, as was pointed out in the opening chap- 
ter, the human came to address the extra-human in terms of human 



intercourse. The phenomenal world to him was not “It” but 
“Thou.” It was not necessary that the object become finally super- 
human and be revered as a god before it might be conceived in 
terms of “Thou.” As extra-human, but not of divine nature, it was 
accorded the “Thou” rather than the “It” by man. The Egyptians 
might — and did — ^personify almost anything: the head, the belly, 
the tongue, perception, taste, truth, a tree, a mountain, the sea, a 
city, darkness, and death. But few of these were personified with 
regularity or with awe; that is, few of them reached the stature of 
gods or demigods. They were forces with which man had the 
“Thou” relation. And it is a little difficult to think of anything in 
the phenomenal world with which he might not have that relation 
as indicated in scenes and texts. The answer is that he might have 
the “Thou” relation with anything in the phenomenal world. 

Another aspect of the uniform landscape of Egypt was its sym- 
metry: east bank balancing west bank, and eastern mountain range 
balancing western mountain range. Whether this bilateral sym- 
metry of landscape was the reason or not, the Egyptian had a strong 
sense of balance, symmetry, and geometry. This comes out clearly 
in his art, where the best products show a fidelity of proportion 
and a careful counterpoising of elements in order to secure a har- 
monious balance. It comes out in his literamre, where the best 
products show a deliberate and sonorous parallelism of members, 
which achieve dignity and cadence, even though it seems monot- 
onous and repetitive to modern ears. 

Let us illustrate this literary balance by quotations from a text 
giving a statement of one of the Egyptian kings: 

Give heed to my utterances / hearken to them. 

I speak to you / I make you aware 

That I am the son of Re / who issued from his body. 

I sit upon his throne in rejoicing / since he established me 
as king / as lord of this land. 

My counsels are good / my plans come to pass. 

I protect Egypt / I defend it.® 

The balance sought by the artist could be illustrated by Egyptian 
sculptures or paintings. Instead, we shall quote from the inscription 
of a “chief craftsman, painter, and sculptor,” who went into con- 
siderable detail with regard to his technical abilities. Of his model- 


ing, he said: “I know how to work up clay, how to proportion 
(it) according to rule, how to mold or introduce (it) by taking 
away or adding to it so that (each) member comes to its (proper) 
place.” Of his drawing, he said: “I know (how to express) the 
movement of a figure, the carriage of a woman, the pose of a single 
instant, the cowering of the isolated captive, or how one eye looks 
at the other.”^® The emphasis of his claimed skill lies in proportion, 
balance, and poise. 

The same balance comes out in the Egyptian’s cosmology and 
his theology, where he sought for a counterpoise to each observed 
phenomenon or each supernatural element. If there is a sky above, 
there must be a sky below; each god must have his goddess con- 
sort, even though she has no separate divine function but is simply a 
feminine counterpart of himself. Some of this striving for bilateral 
symmetry seems to us strained, and undoubtedly artificial concepts 
did arise in the search to find a counterpoise for anything obseiwed 
or conceived. However, the psychological desire for balance 
which drew forth the artificial concept was not itself artificial but 
was a deeply engrained desire for symmetric poise. 

That deep desire for balance will appear to the reader as con- 
tradictory to the lack of order which we deplored in the Egyptians’ 
bland acceptance of any new concept, whether it conformed to an 
old concept or not, and their maintenance of apparently conflicting 
concepts side by side. There is a contradiction here, but we believe 
that it can be explained. The ancient Egyptian had a strong sense of 
S3mimetry and balance, but he had little sense of incongruity: he 
was perfectly willing to balance olF incompatibles. Further, he had 
little sense of causation, that A leads sequentially to B and B leads 
sequentially to C. As remarked in the introductory chapter, the 
ancient did not recognize causality as impersonal and binding. It is 
an oversimplification to say that the Egyptian’s thinking was in 
terms of geometry rather than in terms of algebra, but that state- 
ment may give some idea of his limited virtues. The order in his 
philosophy lay in physical arrangement rather than in integrated 
and sequential systematization. 


It is now time to consider the terms in which the Egyptian 
viewed the physical universe, of which his own land was the focal 



center. First of all, he took his orientation from the Nile River, the 
source of his life. He faced the south, from which the stream came. 
One of the terms for “south” is also a term for “face”; the usual 
word for “north” is probably related to a word which means the 
“back of the head.” On his left was the east and on his right the 
west. The word for “east” and “left” is the same, and the word for 
“west” and “right” is the same. 

We were technically incorrect in stating that the Egyptian’s 
orientation was to the south; more precisely we should say that the 
Egyptian “australized” himself toward the source of the Nile. It is 
significant that he did not take his primary direction from the east, 
the land of the rising sun, the region which he called “God’s Land.” 
As we shall see, the formulated theology did emphasize the east. 
But back in the prehistoric days before theology had crystallized, 
when the terms of the Egyptian language were forming, the dweller 
on the Nile faced toward the south, the source of the annual re- 
fertilization of his land. The theological priority of the sun seems 
thus to be a later development. 

It may be that we are dealing with two separate searchings for 
direction. In the trough of Upper Egypt, where the Nile so clearly 
flows from the south as the dominating feature of the land, the 
compass of man’s attention swung to the south. In the Delta, where 
the broad stretches had no such magnetic pull of direction, the ris- 
ing of the sun in the east was a more important phenomenon. The 
worship of the sun may thus have been more important in the 
north and may have been transferred to the entire land as state the- 
ology in some prehistoric conquest of the south by the north. 
Such a conquest would have established the theological pri- 
macy of the sun and made the east, which was the region of the 
sun’s rebirth, the area of religious importance, but it would not 
affect the words which showed that man’s polarity was originally 
to the south. 

The crystallized theology, as we know it in historic times, made 
the orient, the land of the sun’s rising, the region of birth and re- 
birth, and made the Occident, the land of the sun’s setting, the re- 
gion of death and life after death. The east was ta-netjer, “God’s 
Land,” because the sun rose there in youthly glory. This general 
term for the east was even used for specific foreign countries, 
which were otherwise despised. Syria, Sinai, and Punt, all lying to 


the east, might be afflicted with mountains, trees, and rain, might 
be inhabited by “miserable Asiatics,” but they belonged to the 
youthful sun-god, so that they were designated also as “God’s 
Land” and enjoyed a reflected glory through geographical accident 
and not through inner merit. Implicitly the good produce of these 
eastern countries was ascribed to the sun-god rather than to the 
inhabitants: “All good woods of God’s Land: heaps of myrrh gum, 
trees of fresh myrrh, ebony, and clean ivory, .... baboons, apes, 
greyhounds, and panther skins”“ or “cedar, c}^press, and juniper, 
.... all good woods of God’s Land.”^^ 

In the dogma that arose in magnification of the rising sun the 
grateful joy of all creation at the renewed appearance of the morn- 
ing sun was expressed again and again. The contrast between eve- 
ning and morning was a contrast beuveen death and life. “When 
thou settest on the western horizon, the land is in darkness in the 
manner of death .... (but) when the day breaks, as thou riseston 
the horizon, .... they awake and stand upon their feet, .... they 
live because thou hast arisen for thern.”^® Not only does mankind 
join in this renewal of life, but “all beasts prance upon their feet, 
and everything that flies or flutters,”^^ and “apes worship him; 
‘Praise to thee!’ (say) all beasts with one accord.”^^ The Egyptian 
pictures show this morning worship of the sun by animals: the apes 
stretching out limbs which had been cooled at night, in apparent 
salutation to the warmth of the sun, or the ostriches limbering up 
at dawn by dancing a stately pavan in the first rays of the sun. 
Such observed phenomena were visible proofs of the communion of 
men, beasts, and the gods. 

But to return to the Egyptian’s concept of the world in which he 
lived. We are going to try to give this in a single picture, which will 
have only partial justification. In the first place, we are concerned 
with something like three thousand years of observed history, 
with the vestiges of prehistoric development partially visible; and 
there was constant slow change across this long stretch of time. In 
the second place, the ancient Egyptian left us no single formulation 
of his ideas which we may use as nuclear material; when we pick 
and choose scraps of ideas from scattered sources, we are gratify- 
ing our modern craving for a single integrated system. That is, our 
modem desire to capture a single picture is photographic and static, 



whereas the ancient Egyptian’s picture was cinematic and fluid. 
For example, we should want to know in our picture whether the 
sky was supported on posts or was held up by a god; the Egyptian 
would answer: “Yes, it is supported by posts or held up by a god — 
or it rests on walls, or it is a cow, or it is a goddess whose arms and 
feet touch the earth.” Any one of these pictures would be satis- 
factory to him, according to his approach, and in a single picture 
he might show two different supports for the sky: the goddess 
whose arms and feet reach the eardi, and the god who holds up the 
sky-goddess. This possibility of complementary viewpoints applies 
to other concepts. We shall therefore pick a single picmre, in the 
knowledge that it tells a characteristic story, but not the only 

The Egyptian conceived of the earth as a flat platter with a cor- 
rugated rim. The inside bottom of this platter was the flat alluvial 
plain of Egypt, and the corrugated rim was the rim of mountain 
countries which were the foreign lands. This platter floated in 
water. There were the abysmal waters below, on which the platter 
rested, called by the Egyptian “Nun.” Nun was the waters of the 
underworld, and, according to one continuing concept. Nun was 
the primordial waters out of which life first issued. Life still issued 
from these underworld waters, for the sun was reborn every day 
out of Nun, and the Nile came pouring forth from caverns which 
were fed from Nun. In addition to being the underworld waters. 
Nun was the waters encircling the world, the Okeanos which 
formed the outermost boundary, also called the “Great Circuit” or 
the “Great Green.” Thus it was clear that the sun, after its nightly 
journey under the world, must be reborn beyond the eastern hori- 
zon out of those encircling waters, just as all the gods had original- 
ly come forth out of Nun. 

Above the earth was the inverted pan of the sky, setting the 
outer limit to the universe. As we have already said, the craving 
for symmetry, as well as a sense that space is limited, called forth a 
counterheaven under the earth, bounding the limits of the under- 
world. This was the universe within which man and the gods and 
the heavenly bodies operated. 

Various qualifications to this picture are immediately necessary. 
Our picture gives the vault of heaven as suspended by apparent 


levitation above the earth. That would appeal to the ancient Egyp- 
tian as dangerous, and he would ask for some visible means of sup- 
port. As we have already said, he provided various means of sup- 
port in various concepts, the incompatibility of which he cheerfully 
ignored. The simplest mechanism was four posts set on earth to 
carry the weight of heaven. These were at the outer limits of the 

^ Nut 







earth, as is indicated by such texts as; “I have set ... . the terror 
of thee as far as the four pillars of heaven,”^® and the number four 
suggests that they were placed at the four points of the compass. 
Fortunately, this arrangement appealed to the Egyptian as being 
both strong and permanent: “(As firm) as heaven resting upon its 
four posts” is a simile used more than once.^’^ 

But heaven might have other support. Between heaven and 
earth there was Shu, the air-god, and it was his function to stand 
firmly on earth and carry the weight of heaven. In the Pyramid 
Texts (1101) it is said; “The arms of Shu are under heaven, that 
he may carry it.” Significantly, another version of this text gives 
a variant: “The arms of Shu are under Nut, that he may carry 
her,” for heaven was, of course, personified as a deity, the sky- 
goddess Nut. She is represented as crouching over earth, with her 
fingers and toes touching the ground, while the sun, moon, and 
stars adorn her body. She may carry her own weight in this pose, 
or the air-god Shu may take some of her weight on his uplifted 

Again, the vault of heaven might be represented as the under- 
belly of a celestial cow, studded with stars, and providing the 
Milky Way along which the boat of the sun might make its heaven- 



Ijr coarse. That these concepts are essentiallf alternatives did not 
seem to bother the Egyptian. In the course of a single text he might 
use these differing ideas about heaven; each concept pleased him 
and had its pertinent value in a universe which was fluid and in 
which almost all things were possible to the gods. Within his own 
standards of what is credible and convincing, he had his own con- 
sistency. All his concepts of heaven and its supports gave him as- 
surance instead of uncertainty, because they were all stable and en- 
during and because one concept could be taken as complementing 
another instead of contradicting it. 

Under the vault of heaven were the heavenly bodies, the stars 
hanging from the inverted pan or else spangling the belly of the 
cow or of the goddess, and the moon similarly treated. The moon 
has curiously little weight in Egyptian mythology, or, rather, we 
should say that it has little weight in the evidence which has de- 
scended to us. There are traces that there had been early important 
centers of moon worship, but this worship became diverted into 
less cosmic directions in historic times. Thus the moon-god Thoth 
was more important as a god of wisdom and a divine judge than he 
was through his heavenly activity. The waning and waxing moon 
disk as one of the two celestial eyes became a rather formal part of 
the Osiris story, serving as the injury suffered by Horus in fight- 
ing for his father, an injury which was restored every month by the 
moon-god. Conceivably this idea was taken over from some earli- 
er myth in which the moon had had an importance comparable to 
that of the sun, the other celestial eye. In historical times there was 
little comparison between the two bodies. 

Similarly, the stars had their importance in the measuring of 
time, and two or three of the major constellations were deities of 
some w'eight; but only one group of stars achieved lasting impor- 
tance in the Egyptian scene. Again, this importance had to do with 
triumph over death. In the clear Egyptian air the stars stand out 
with brilliance. Most of the stars swing across the sky with a 
scythe-like sweep and disappear below the horizon. But one sec- 
tion of the skies employs a smaller orbit, and there the stars may dip 
toward the horizon but never disappear. Those are the circumpolar 
stars swinging around the Nordi Star, stars which the Egyptians 
called “those that know no destruction” or “those that know no 


weariness.” These undying stars they took as the symbol of the 
dead who triumphed over death and went on into eternal life. 
That north section of heaven was in early times an important part 
of the universe. Visibly there was no death there; therefore, it 
must be the place of the eternal blessedness for which Egyptians 
longed. In the early mortuary texts, which we moderns call the 
Pyramid Texts, the goal of the deceased was the region of Dlt in 
the northern part of heaven, where he would join the circumpolar 
stars “which know no destruction” and thus live forever himself. 
There were located their Elysian Fields, the “Field of Reeds” and 
the “Field of Offerings,” in which the dead would live as an akh, 
an “effective” spirit. 

As time went on, and as the dominant mythology of the sun 
spread its weight over the nation, the region of Dat shifted from 
the northern part of the sky to the underworld. The old texts which 
tried every conceivable method of boosting the dead into heaven 
were still reiterated with solemn fervor, but the entryway into the 
next world was now in the west, and the two Elysian Fields were 
below the earth. This was clearly because the sun died in the west, 
had its spiritual course under the earth, and gloriously was reborn 
in the east. So, too, the dead must share in this promise of constant- 
ly continued life, must be shifted to the proximity of the sun in 
order to participate in his fate. Thus our picture of the universe 
must recognize Dat, the area beuveen eardt and the counterheaven 
as the realm of the immortal dead. 

Enough has already been said about the central importance of die 
sun in this scene. Something must be said about his motive power 
on his daily journey. Most commonly he is depicted as moving by 
boat, and the bilateral symmetry which the %yptian loved gave 
him a boat for the day and another boat for the night. Various im- 
portant gods formed the crews of these two boats. This journey 
might not be all stately and serene: there was a serpent lurking 
along the way to attack the boat and presumably swallow the sun; 
battle was necessary to conquer this creature. This is, of course, 
the common belief in many lands that eclipses occur when a snake 
or dragon swallows up the sun. But a true eclipse was not the only 
phenomenon involved; every night an attempt to swallow up the 
sun was met and conquered in the underworld. 



The sun might have other motive power. It seemed to be a roll- 
ing ball, and the Egyptians knew a rolling ball in that pellet which 
the dung beetle pushed across the sand. So a beetle, a scarab, be- 
came a symbol for the morning sun, with an afternoon counter- 
part in an old man wearily moving toward the western horizon. 
Again, the symbol of the falcon soaring in apparent motionlessness 
in the upper air suggested that the sun disk also might have falcon 
wings for its effortless flight. As before, these concepts were felt 
to be complementary and not conflicting. The possession of many 
manifestations of being enlarged the glory of the god. 

To move the concept of the sun even farther from the physical, 
from the notion of a fiery disk which swung around the earth every 
twenty-four hours, we must here note other aspects of the sun- 
god, Re. As supreme god, he was a divine king, and legend said 
that he had been the first king of Egypt in primordial times. He 
was thus represented in the form of a bearded deity with a disk as 
his crown. As supreme god, he loaned himself to other gods, in 
order to enlarge them and give them a primacy within geographical 
or functional limits. Thus he was both Re and Re-Atum, the crea- 
tor god, at Heliopolis. He was Re-Harakhte, that is, Re-Horus-of- 
the-Horizon, as the youthful god on the eastern horizon. At vari- 
ous localities he became Monm-Re, a falcon-god, Sobek-Re, a 
crocodile-god, and Khnum-Re, a ram-god. He became Amon-Re, 
King of the Gods, as the imperial god of Thebes. As we have said, 
these separate manifestations enlarged him. He was not simply a 
solar disk. He had personality as a god. Here we revert again to the 
distinction between the scientific concept of a phenomenon as “It” 
and the ancient concept of a phenomenon as “Thou” given in 
chapter i. There it was said chat science is able to comprehend the 
“It” as ruled by laws which make its behavior relatively predict- 
able, whereas the “Thou” has the unpredictable character of an 
individual, “a presence known only in so far as it reveals itself.” 
In these terms the apparently antic and protean character of the 
sun becomes simply the versatile and ubiquitous reach possible to 
a very able individual. Surprise at this being’s many-sided person- 
ality may ultimately give way to an expectation that he will be able 
to participate in any situation with specialized competence. 



Now we shall examine some of the Egfptian creation stories. 
It is significant that a plural should be necessary, that we cannot 
settle down to a single codified account of the beginnings. The 
Egyptian accepted various myths and discarded none of them. It is 
further to be noted that it is easier to observe close parallels be- 
tween the Babylonian and Hebrew accounts of the genesis than it 
is to relate the Egyptian accounts to the other two. Whthin the 
broad area of general developmental similarity in the ancient Near 
East, Egypt stood slightly apart. 

We have already noted that Nun, the primordial abyss, was the 
region out of which life first came. This is, of course, particularly 
true of the sun, because of his daily re-emergence from the depths, 
and of the Nile, because it consists of groundwaters. But the phrase 
“who came forth from Nun” is used of many other individual gods 
and of the council of the gods as a group. In large part, we need not 
seek too seriously for a myth for this idea. The depths or the pri- 
mordial waters are a concept needing no teleological story; Tenny- 
son’s reference to life as “that which drew from out the boundless 
deep” needs no explanation. 

However, we must give closer attention to one account of life 
appearing out of the waters, and that has the location of creation 
on a “primeval hillock.” We have mentioned how broad sheets of 
water cover Egypt when the Nile inundation is at its height and 
how the sinking of the waters brings into view the first isolated 
peaks of mud, refreshed with new fertile silt. These would be the 
first islands of promise for new life in a new agricultural year. As 
these first hillocks of slime lift their heads out of the floodwaters 
into the baking warmth of the sun, it is easy to imagine that they 
sputter and crackle with new life. The modern Egyptians believe 
that there is special life-giving power in this slime, and they are 
not alone in this belief. A little less than three centuries ago there 
was a scientific controversy about spontaneous generation, the 
ability of apparently inorganic matter to produce living organisms. 
One Englisknan wrote that if his scholarly opponent doubted 
that life came into being through putrefaction which went on in 
mud or slime, “let him go to Egypt, and there he will find the fields 
swarming with mice begot of the mud of Nylus, to the great calam- 



ity of the inhabitants.”^* It is not hard to believe that animal life 
may come out of this highly charged mud. 

The evidence on the Egyptian myth of the origin of life on the 
primeval hillock is scattered and allusive. The essential point is 
that the creator-god made his first appearance on this solitary is- 
land. At least two different theological systems claimed primacy 
through the possession of a primeval hillock, and indeed ultimately 
every temple which had a high place for its god probably consid- 
ered that high place to be the place of creation. The pyramids 
themselves borrow this idea of a rising hill as a promise to the de- 
ceased Egyptian buried within the pyramid that he will emerge 
again into new being. As pointed out in chapter i, the' concept of 
the creation hillock is the essential, and its location in space, 
whether Heliopolis or Hermopolis, was of no concern to the 

Let us take a passage from the Book of the Dead, which states 
this first solitary appearance of Re-Atum, the creator-god. The 
text is provided with explanatory glosses. 

I am Atom when I was alone in Nun (the priinordial waters) ; I am Re in his 
(first) appearances, when he began to rule that which he had made. What does 
that mean? This “Re when he began to rule that which he had made” means that 
Re began to appear as a king, as one who existed before (the air-god) Shu had 
(even) lifted (heaven from earth), when he (Re) was on the primeval hillock 
which was in Hermopolis.^® 

The text then goes on to emphasize the fact that the god was self- 
created and that he proceeded to bring into being “the gods who 
are in his following.” 

The Egyptian hieroglyph which means the primeval “hillock of 
appearance” means also “to appear in glory.” It shows a rounded 
mound with the rays of the sun streaming upward from it (■3?), 
graphically portraying this miracle of the first appearance of the 

The text which we have cited placed the creation on a mound in 
the town of Hermopolis, the home of certain gods who were in 
being before the creation. However, that anomaly of pre-creation 
existence need not worry us too seriously, for the names of these 
gods^show^that they represent the formless chaos which existed 
before the creator-god brought order out of disorder. We should 



qualify the term “chaos” slightly, as these pre-creation gods are 
neatly paired off into four couples, a god and a goddess for each 
quality of chaos. That is another example of the love of symmetry. 
These four pairs of gods persisted in mythology as the “Eight” 
who were before the beginning. They were Nun, the primordial 
waters, and his consort, Naunet, who came to be the counter- 
heaven; Huh, the boundless stretches of primordial formlessness, 
and his consort, Hauhet; Kuk, “darkness,” and his consort, 
Kauket; and Amun, that is, Amon, “the hidden,” representing the 
intangibility and imperceptibility of chaos, with his consort, 
Amaunet. All this is a way of saying what the Book of Genesis 
says— that, before creation, “the earth was waste and void; and 
darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Huh and Amun, bound- 
lessness and imperceptibility, are rough parallels to the Hebrew 
tohu wavohu, “waste and void”; while Kuk, darkness, and Nun, 
the abyss, are clearly similar to the Hebrew hoskek al-penei teh&m, 
“darkness upon the face of the deep waters.” This similarity is in- 
teresting but not too alluring, because the Egyptian story and the 
Hebrew diverge immediately when one comes to the episodes of 
creation, with Egypt emphasizing the self-emergence of a creator- 
god, whereas the creator-god of Genesis existed alongside the 
chaos. You have to begin with some concept, so that primitive man 
everywhere would try to conceive of a formlessness before form 
was made. This formlessness might have much the same terms 
anywhere. We shall revert to the Genesis story later. 

At this point we cannot pursue the other emergences of a pri- 
meval hillock in other cult centers or the implications of this 
thought in the beliefs and iconography of Egypt. We wush instead 
to plunge on to a more developed mythological phenomenon which 
has its importance in the creation stories. 

In early times the sun-god had his own family of gods, which 
was also the supreme council of the gods. This group, which had 
its chief center at the temple of the sun at Heliopolis, u'as the En- 
nead, “the Nine,” consisting of four interrelated couples surmount- 
ed by one common ancestor. This Ennead or “Nine” may be placed 
in contrast to the “Eight,” which we have already discussed, for 
the “Eight” comprised elements of cosmic disorder, whereas this 
“Nine” contained only progressive steps of cosmic order: air and 



moisture; earth and sk^; the beings on the earth. This says clearly 
that the creation marks the dividing-line between preceding con- 
fusion and present order. It is not implied that the creator-god con- 
quered and annihilated the elements of chaos and set the elements 
of order in their place. On the contrary, it is obvious that such pre- 
creation gods as Nun, the underworld waters, and Kuk, darkness, 
continued after the creation; but they continued in their proper 
places and not in universal and formless disorder. In that sense, 
this creation has similarities with the creation in Genesis : a separa- 
tion of light from darkness and a separation of waters below from 
waters above. 

The sun-god Atum, as he perched on the primeval hillock, was 
self-created; as the Egyptian puts it, he “became, by himself.” 
Now the name Atum means “everything” and it means “nothing.” 
This is not as paradoxical as it sounds, for the word means “what 
is finished, completed, perfected,” and all these terms have their 
positive and their negative. “Finis,” written at the end of a book, 
means: “That’s all. There isn’t any more.” So, too, Atum means 
all-inclusiveness and it means emptiness, at the beginning rather 
than at the end. iktum is the inchoation of all. He is like that preg- 
nant stillness which precedes a hurricane. 

There are varying accounts of the creation itself. The Book of 
the Dead (17) states that the sun-god created his names, as the rul- 
er of the Ennead. This is explained as meaning that he named the 
parts of his body and that “thus arose these gods who are in his fol- 
lowing.” That is delightfully primitive and has a consistency of its 
own. The parts of the body have separate existence and separate 
character, so that they may have relation to separate deities. The 
name is a thing of individuality and of power; the act of speaking 
a new name is an act of creation. Thus we have the picture of the 
creator squatting on his tiny island and inventing names for eight 
parts of his body — or four pairs of parts — ^with each utterance 
bringing a new god into existence. 

The Pyramid Texts present a different picture. Addressing 
Atum and recalling the occasion when the god was high upon the 
primeval hillock, the inscription goes on: “Thou didst spit what 
was Shu; thou didst sputter out what was Tefnut. Thou didst put 
thy arms about them as the arms of a ka, for thy ka was in them” 


(1 652-5 3) . This has the creation as a rather violent ejection of the 
first two gods. Perhaps it was as explosive as a sneeze, for Shu is 
the god of air, and his consort, Tefnut, is the goddess of moisture. 
The reference to the ka needs explanation. We shall discuss the ka 
or other personality of an individual later. The concept of the ka 
has something of the alter ego in it and something of the guardian 
spirit with the protecting arms. That is why Atum puts his arms 
protectingly around his two children, for his ka was in them, an 
essential part of himself. 

Another, more earthy, text makes the production of Shu and 
Tefnut an act of self-pollution on Atum’s part.^'’ This is clearly an 
attempt to surmount the problem of generation by a god alone, 
without an attending goddess. 

The couple Shu and Tefnut, air and moisture, gave birth to 
earth and sky, the earth-god Geb and the sky-goddess Nut. Or, 
according to another concept, the air-god Shu lifted and tore asun- 
der earth and sky. Then in their turn Geb and Nut, earth and sky, 
mated and produced two couples, the god Osiris and his consort 
Isis, the god Seth and his consort Nephthys. These represent the 
creatures of this world, whether human, divine, or cosmic. I shall 
not take time to argue the exact original significance of these four 
beings, as we are not precisely certain of any of them. 


Shu — ^Tefnut 
Geb — ^Nut 

Osiris — Isis Seth — Nephthys 

Thus in this ruling family of the gods we have a creation story 
implicitly. Atum, the supercharged vacuum, separated into air and 
moisture. As if in the operation of the nebular hypothesis, air and 
moisture condensed into earth and sky. Out of earth and sky came 
the beings that populate the universe. 

We do not here wish to go into some of the other creation stories, 
such as the god who was himself the “rising land” on which the 
miracle took place. It is interesting that we lack a specific account 
of the creation of mankind, except in the most allusive way. A 
ram-god, Khnum, is referred to as forming mankind on his potter’s 
wheel, or the sun-god is called the “discoverer of mankind.”^^ But 
no story of separate creation of man is necessary, for a reason 



which we shall discuss more folly later; that reason is that there 
was no firm and final dividing-line between gods and men. Once a 
creation was started with beings, it could go on, whether the be- 
ings were gods, demigods, spirits, or men. 

One of the texts which comments incidentally on creation states 
that mankind was made in the image of god. This text emphasizes 
the goodness of the creator-god in caring for his human creatures. 
“Vlfell tended are men, the cattle of god. He made heaven and 
earth according to their desire, and he repelled the water monster 
(at creation). He made the breath (of) life (for) their nostrils. 
They are his images that have issued from his body. He arises in 
heaven according to their desire. He made for them plants and ani- 
mals, fowl and fish, in order to nourish them. He slew his enemies 
and destroyed (even) his (own) children when they plotted rebel- 
lion (against him) The text is interesting and unusual in mak- 
ing the purposes of creation the interests of humans; normally the 
myth recounts the steps of creation without indication of purpose. 
But this particular text happens to have strong moral purpose. 
Note, for example, the reference to the god’s destroying mankind 
when they rebelled against him. We shall return to this remote 
parallel to the biblical Flood story in the next chapter. 

We must examine at length one final document bearing on the 
creation. This is an inscription called the Memphite Theology, a 
context so strange and different from the material we have been 
discussing that it seems, at first glance, to come from another 
world. And yet closer examination assures us that the difference is 
a matter of degree and not of kind, because all the strange elements 
in the text of the Memphite Theology were present in other Egj^- 
tian texts in isolated instances; only in this text were they brought 
together into a broad philosophical system about the nature of the 

The document in question is a battered stone in the British 
Museum, bearing the name of an Egyptian pharaoh who ruled 
about 700 B.c.®® However, this pharaoh claimed that he had simply 
copied an inscription of the ancestors, and his claim is borne out by 
the language and typically early physical arrangement of the text. 
We are dealing with a document which comes from the very begin- 
ning of Egyptian history, from the time when the first dynasties 


made their new capital at Memphis, the city of the god Ptah. Now, 
Memphis as the center of a theocratic state was an upstart; it had 
had no national importance before. To make matters worse, Heli- 
opolis, a traditional religious capital of Egypt, the home of the sun- 
god Re and of the creator-god Re-Atum, was only twenty-five 
miles from Memphis. It was necessary to justify a new location 
of the center of the world. The text in question is part of a theologi- 
cal argument of the primacy of the god Ptah and thus of his home, 

The creation texts which we have discussed earlier have been 
more strictly in physical terms: the god separating earth from sky 
or giving birth to air and moisture. This new text turns as far as 
the Egyptian could turn toward a creation in philosophical terms: 
the thought which came into the heart of a god and the command- 
ing utterance which brought that thought into reality. This crea- 
tion by thought conception and speech delivery has its experiential 
background in human life: the authority of a ruler to create by 
command. But only the use of physical terms such as “heart” for 
thought and “tongue” for command relate the Memphite Theology 
to the more earthy texts which we have been considering. Here, as 
Professor Breasted has pointed out, we come close to the back- 
ground of the Logos doctrine of the New Testament: “In the begin- 
ning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word 
was God.” 

Before undertaking this difficult text itself, we should lay out for 
ourselves the known factors that play into the interpretation of die 
text. First, the Memphite text takes off from the creation stories 
which I have already recounted: xAtum coming into being out of 
Nun, the primeval waters, and Atum bringing his Ennead of gods 
into existence. The Memphite text is aware that these were pre- 
vailing concepts in Egypt. In place of discarding them as competi- 
tive, it wishes to subsume them into a higher philosophy, to take 
advantage of them by pointing out that they belong to a higher 

That higher system employs invention by the cognition of an 
idea in the mind and production through the utterance of a creating 
order by speech. Now thought and speech are ancient attributes of 
power in Egypt, personified as deities in our earliest literature. 



They occur normally as a pair of related attributes of the sun-god: 
Hu, “authoritative utterance,” that speech which is so effective 
that it creates, and Sia, “perception,” the cognitive reception of a 
situation, an object, or an idea. Hu and Sia were attributes that 
carried governing authority. In the Pyramid Texts the ruling god 
leaves his shrine and surrenders his office to the deceased king, be- 
cause the latter “has captured Hu, has control of Sia” (300). In 
our Memphite text these two attributes of power are taken in 
material terms: the heart is the organ which conceives thought, 
and the tongue is the organ which creates the conceived thought as 
a phenomenal actuality. All this is credited to the activity of the 
Memphite god Ptah, who is himself thought and speech in every 
heart and on every tongue, and thus was the first creative principle, 
just as he remains now. 

The part of the text in which we are interested begins by equat- 
ing Ptah with Nun, the primeval waters out of which came Atum, 
the normally accepted creator-god. This in itself makes Ptah ante- 
cedent to the sun-god, and that priority occurs in passing references 
in other texts. But our text does not leave the priority implicit; it 
states the mechanism by which Ptah produced Atum. 

“Ptah, the Great One; he is the heart and tongue of the Ennead 

of gods .... who begot the gods There came into being in 

the heart, and there came into being on the tongue (something) in 
the form of Atum.” This is the invention and production of Atum. 
Out of nothing, there came into existence the idea of an Atum, of 
a creator-god. That idea “became, in the heart” of the divine 
world, which heart or mind was Ptah himself; then that idea “be- 
came, upon the tongue” of the divine world, which tongue or 
speech was Ptah himself. The Egyptian uses pictorial, physical 
language; it says elliptically: “in-the-form-of-Atum became, in 
the heart, and became, on the tongue,” but there is no question of 
the meaning. Conception and parturition reside in these terms. 

But Ptah’s creative power does not stop with the production of 
the traditional creator-god. “Great and mighty is Ptah, who has 
transmitted [power to all gods], as well as their spirits, through 
this (activity of the) heart and this (activity of the) tongue.” Nor 
does the creative principle stop with the gods. “It has come to pass 
that the heart and tongue control [every] member (of the body) by 


teaching that he (Ptah) is throughout every body (in the form of 
the heart) and throughout every mouth (in the form of the tongue), 
of all gods, of all men, of [all] animals, of all creeping things , and 
of what (ever) lives, by (Ptah’s) thinking (as the heart) and com- 
manding (as the tongue) anything that he wishes.” In other words, 
we have no single miracle of thought conception and articulation, 
but the same principles of creation which were valid in the prime- 
val waters to bring forth Atum are still valid and operative. Wher- 
ever there is thought and command, there Ptah still creates. 

The text even draws an invidious distinction between the tradi- 
tional creation by which Atum brought forth Shu and Tefnut and 
that creation whereby Ptah spoke Shu and Tefnut and thus 
brought them into being. Ptah’s teeth and lips are the articulating 
organs of the productive speech. As we mentioned earlier, one ver- 
sion of the Atum story makes Shu and Tefnut products of the self- 
pollution of the creator-god. Thus teeth and lips in the case of Ptah 
are brought into parallelism with the semen and hands of xAtum. 
To our modern prejudice, this makes die Ptah creation a nobler ac- 
tivity; but it is not certain that the ancient meant to belittle the 
more physical story. Perhaps he was simply expressing the corre- 
spondence of alternative myths when he said; “Now the Ennead 
of Atum came into being from his seed and by his fingers; but the 
Ennead (of Ptah) is the teeth and the lips in this mouth which ut- 
tered the name of everything and (thus) Shu and Tefnut came forth 
from it.” We have already seen how the utterance of a name is in 
itself an act of creation. 

That text goes on to specify in detail the products of the activ- 
ity of the conceptive heart and creative tongue, without adding 
anything essentially new. It explains the mechanistic relation of the 
various senses to the heart and tongue by stating that the function 
of the sight of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, and the smelling of 
the nose is to report to the heart. On the basis of this sensory in- 
formation, the heart releases “everything which is completed,” 
that is, every established concept, and then “it is the tongue which 
announces what the heart thinks.” 

Then the text summarizes the range of this creative power of 
Ptah as heart and tongue. Thus were the gods born; thus came into 
being all of the divine order; thus were made the directive des- 



times which supply mankind with food and provisions; thus was 
made the distinction between right and wrong; thus were made all 
arts, crafts, and human activities; thus Ptah made provinces and 
cities and set the various local gods in their governing places. 
Finally; “Thus it was discovered and understood that his (Ptah’s) 
power is greater than (that of the other) gods. And so Ptah rested 
after he had made everything, as well as the divine order.” Admit- 
tedly the word “rested” introduces a parallel to the Genesis story 
of God’s resting on the seventh day. The translation “rested” is 
defensible, but it is probably safer to render; “And so Ptah was 
satisfied, after he had made everything.” 

It is clear that there is some special pleading in this text, the at- 
tempt of an upstart theology to establish itself as national and uni- 
versal against older, traditional ways of thinking. That comes out 
in a quotation which we have just given, which might be para- 
phrased; For these reasons, all right-thinking men have come to 
the conclusion that Ptah is the most powerful of all gods. Undoubt- 
edly that special interest does lie in this text, but that fact need not 
concern us much. As we have said, the Memphite Theology did 
not wish to conquer and annihilate the theology of Heliopolis but 
to conquer and assimilate it. And, after all, we are more interested 
in the possibility of a developed speculative thought as given in this 
text than in any controversy between two important shrines. 

Perhaps it would be better to call our rendering of the words 
“the word of the god” by “the divine order” a free paraphrase. 
But we should still justify it. “The word of the god” can and does 
mean “concern of the gods” or what we might call “divine inter- 
ests.” But the phrase “the divine order” implies that the gods have 
a system into which all the created elements should fit as soon as 
created. The context enumerates the created elements; gods, for- 
tunes, food, provisions, towns, districts, etc. These are summed 
up in the term “everything,” after which we have “as well as the 
word of the god.” What can this mean other than the directive 

One can argue this same sense in other Egyptian contexts. For 
example, an assertion that the righteous man is not wiped out by 
death but has an immortality because of his goodly memory is in- 
dorsed with the words; “That is the method of reckoning of the 


word of god”; in freer sense: “That is the principle of the divine 

Because the Egyptians thought of the word in physical, concrete 
terms and because the priesthood was the interpreter of what was 
divine, this “word of god” came to be treated as a body of litera- 
ture, the sacred writings, but it was still the directive speech given 
by the gods. A dead noble was promised “every good and pure 
thing, in conformance to that writing of the word of god which 
(the god of wisdom) Thoth made.”^® In another passage one scribe 
chides another for the impious presumption of his boasting: “I am 
astonished when thou sayest: ‘I am more profound as a scribe than 
heaven, or earth, or the underworld!’ .... The house of books is 
concealed and invisible; the council of its gods is hidden and dis- 
tant Thus I answer thee: ‘Beware lest thy fingers approach 

the word of god!’ What the gods have said is in itself directive 
and controlling; it sets an order within which man and the other 
elements of the universe operate. 

Thus the “word of the god” is nothing so simple in these con- 
texts as “divine writing” or hieroglyphic. It is the word or concern 
or business of the gods which applies to the elements which the gods 
have created. Not only were material elements created, but there 
was created for them a “word,” which applied to them and which 
put them into their appropriate places in the god’s scheme of things . 
Creation was not the irresponsible production of oddly assorted 
pieces, which might be shaken down in a vast impersonal lottery 
wheel. Creation was accompanied and directed by a word which 
expressed some kind of a divine order in order to comprehend the 
created elements. 

In summary, the ancient Egyptian was self-conscious about him- 
self and his universe; he produced a cosmos in terms of his own ob- 
servation and his own experience. Like the Nile Valley, this cos- 
mos had limited space but reassuring periodicity; its structural 
framework and mechanics permitted the reiteration of life through 
the rebirth of life-giving elements. The creation stories of the an- 
cient Egyptian were also in terms of his own experience, although 
they bear loose general similarity to other creation stories. The 
most interesting advance lies in a very early attempt to relate crea- 



tion to the processes of thought and speech rather than to mere 
physical activity. Even this “higher” philosophy is given in pic- 
torial terms arising out of Egyptian experience. 


1. Champollion, Mon.^ 238-40. 

2. Admon., 3:1; 1;9. 

3. Wenamon, 2: 19-22. 

4. Aton Hymn, 3. 

5. Tombos, L 13. 

6. Aton Hymn, 9-10. 

7. Anast. I, 19:2-4; 24:1-4. 

8. Merikare, 91-98. 

9. Med. Habu n, 83, 11. 57-58. 

10. Louvre, C 14, 8-10. 

11. Urk. IV, 329. 

12. Ibid., 373. 

13. Aton Hymn, 3-6. 

14. Aton Hymn, 5. 

1 5. BD, Introductory Hymn. 

16. Urk. IV, 612. 

17. Ibid., 183, 843. 

18. Encyclopaedia Britannica (llth ed.). 

19. Urk. V, 6 = BD, 17. 

20. Pyr. 1248. 

21. In Beatty I, p. 24. 

22. Merikare, 130-34. 

23. Kurt Sethe, Dramatiscke Texte zu altdgyptischen Mysterienspielm. 

24. Peasant, Bl, 307-1 1. 

25. Cairo 28085; Lacau, mt., p. 206. 

26. Anast. I, 11:4-7. 




T he first two chapters have attempted to establish the attitude 
of mind with which ancient man viewed the world around 
him. Before moving directly to a consideration of the state and its 
place in the Egyptian scene, we should consider two questions 
which provide a setting for that consideration. Did the ancient 
Egyptian see an essential difference in substance between man, 
society, the gods, plants, animals, and the physical universe? 
Did he believe the universe to be benevolent, hostile, or indifferent 
to him? These questions have bearing on the relation of the state 
to the universe and on the functioning of the state for the benefit 
of man. 

Let us take first the question about difference of substance 
among men, gods, and other elements of the universe. This prob- 
lem has vexed Christian theologians for centuries. We can give 
only a personal answer with reference to ancient Egypt. To be 
sure, a man seems to be one thing, and the sky or a tree seems to 
be another. But to the ancient Egyptian such concepts had a pro- 
tean and complementary nature. The sky might be thought of as a 
material vault above earth, or as a cow, or as a female. A tree 
might be a tree or the female who was the tree-goddess. Tmth 
might be treated as an abstract concept, or as a goddess, or as a 
divine hero who once lived on earth. A god might be depicted as a 
man, or as a falcon, or as a falcon-headed man. In one context the 
king is described as the sun, a star, a bull, a crocodile, a lion, a fal- 
con, a jackal, and the two tutelary gods of Egypt — not so much 
in simile as in vital essence.^ There was thus a continuing sub- 
stance across the phenomena of the universe, whedier organic, in- 
organic, or abstract. It is not a matter of black being antipodal to 
white but rather that the universe is a spectrum in which one color 
blends off into another without line of demarcation, in which, in- 
deed, one color may become another under alternating conditions. 




We wish to argue this point further. Our line of argument will 
be that to the ancient Egyptian the elements of the universe were 
consubstantial. If that be true, the terms which he knew best — hu- 
man behavior — would be the frame of reference for nonhuman 
phenomena. It would then be idle to argue whether the universe, 
or the gods of the universe, were believed to be benevolent, malevo- 
lent, or indifferent. They would be just like humans: benevolent 
when they were benevolent, malevolent when malevolent, and in- 
different when indifferent. To put it in active terras, they would be 
benevolent when benevolence was their stated business and malev- 
olent when malevolence was their stated business. That conclusion 
would have relation to the business of the state and the forces re- 
sponsible for the state. 

The first claim for the argument that the elements of the uni- 
verse were of one substance is in the principle of free substitution, 
interchange, or representation. It was very easy for one element to 
take the place of another. The deceased wanted bread, so that he 
might not be hungry in the next world. He made contractual ar- 
rangements whereby loaves of bread were presented regularly at 
his tomb, so that his spirit might return and eat of the bread. But he 
was aware of the transitory namre of contracts and of the greed of 
hired servants. He supported his needs by other forms of bread. A 
model loaf made of wood and left in the tomb would be an ade- 
quate representative of an actual loaf. The picture of loaves of 
bread on the tomb wall would continue to feed the deceased by 
representation. If other means of presentation were lacking, the 
word “bread,” spoken or written with reference to his nourish- 
ment, might be an effective substitute. This is an easy concept: 
the physical man was formerly here; now the spiritual man is over 
there; we must project over to him spirimal, not physical, bread, 
so that the absolute is not necessary; the name or the idea or the 
representation will be enough. 

Let us carry representation into another area. A god represented 
something important in the universe: the sky, a district of Egypt, 
or kingship. In terms of his function that god had extensiveness 
and intangibility. But he might have a localization in our world, in 
a place where he might feel at home; that is, a shrine might be 


Specified for him. In that shrine he might have a place of manifesta- 
tion in an image. This image was not the god; it was merely a 
mechanism of stone or wood or metal to permit him to make an 
appearance. This is stated by the Egyptians in one of the creation 
accounts. The creator-god acted for the other gods, and “he made 
their bodies like that with which their hearts were satisfied. So the 
gods entered into their bodies of every (kind of) wood, of every 
(kind of) stone, or every (kind of) clay .... in which they had 
taken form.”^ These images were provided for them so that they 
might have places in which to take visible form. Thus the god 
Amon might be at home in a stone stame of human form, in a spe- 
cially selected ram, or in a specially selected gander. He remained 
himself and did not become identical with this form of appearance, 
and yet he had a different form of appearance for a different pur- 
pose, just as humans might maintain different homes or might have 
different garments. 

Of course, we rationalize the image or the sacred animal as be- 
ing an empty shell of divinity unless divinity were manifest in 
the shell. However, in another sense the image or the animal was a 
representative of divinity or was divinity itself. I mean that divin- 
ity would be present in his place of manifestation whenever his 
business placed him there, and his business placed him there when 
the act of worship before the image called him into residence. So 
that the image did act for and as the god whenever the worshiper ad- 
dressed himself to the image. In that sense, the image w^as the god 
for all 'working purposes. 

There were other substitutes for the gods. The king of Egypt 
was himself one of the gods and was the land’s representative 
among the gods. Furthermore, he was the one official intermediary 
between the people and the gods, the one recognized priest of all 
the gods. Endowed with divinity, the pharaoh had the protean char- 
acter of divinity; he could merge with his fellow-gods and could be- 
come any one of them. In part this was symbolic, the acting of a 
part in religious drama or the simile of praise. But the Egyptian 
did not distinguish between symbolism and participation; if he said 
that the king was Horns, he did not mean that the king w'as playing 
the part of Homs, he meant that the king -was Horus, that the god 



was effectively present in the king’s body during the particular ac- 
tivity in question. 

How can the king be the god-king unless the god-king is pres- 
ent in him, so that the two become one? A single text magnifying 
the king equates him with a series of deities: “He is Sia,” the god 
of perception; “he is Re,” the sun-god; “he is Khnum,” the god 
who brings mankind into being on his potter’s wheel; “he is 
Bastet,” the goddess who protects; and “he is Sekhmet,” the god- 
dess who punishes.® Understanding, supreme rule, building-up of 
the populace, protection, and punishment were all attributes of 
the king; the king was each of them; each of these attributes was 
manifest in a god or goddess ; the king was each of these gods or god- 

Carrying the principle of substimtion one step further, if the 
king could represent a god, it is also true that the king could be rep- 
resented by a man. The business of kingship was too detailed for 
absolute rule by a single individual, so that certain responsibilities 
must be deputized, even though state dogma said that the king did 
all. Similarly, state dogma might insist that the king was the sole 
priest for ail the gods; but it was impossible for him to function 
every day in all the temples; that activity must also be deputized. 
Here we must admit that there is some difference of representa- 
tion; the priest or official acted for the king, not as the king. It 
was deputizing rather than participating in the nature of the other 
being. This is an acknowledged difference, but even this difference 
is not absolute. Those who act in the place of another share some- 
what in the personality of that other. Simply the physical grouping 
of the tombs of Old Kingdom courtiers around the pyramid of 
pharaoh shows that they wished to share in his divine glory by be- 
longing to him and thus participating in him. Even here they be- 
longed to some portion of the same spectrum and had an ultimate 
consubstantiality with him, which was partially derived and par- 
tially innate. Between god and man there was no point at which 
one could erect a boundary line and state that here substance 
changed from divine, superhuman, immortal, to mundane, human, 

The fluidity of Egyptian concepts and the tendency to synthe- 
size divergent elements have led some Egyptologists to believe 


that the Egyptians were really monotheistic, that all gods were sub- 
sumai into a single god. In a moment we shall present a text that 
would seem to be a prime document for this thesis of essential - 
monotheism, but we wish to preface it by insisting that it is not a 
matter of single god but of single nature of observ^ed phenomena 
in the universe, with the clear possibility of exchange and substitu- 
tion. With relation to gods and men the Egyptians were mono- 
physites: many men and many gods, but all ultimately of one na- 

The text that we mentioned presents an ancient Egyptian trinity: 
the three gods who were supremely important at one period of his- 
tory all taken up into a single divinity. The purpose was to enlarge 
the god Amon by incorporating the other wm gods into his being. 
“All gods are three — Amon, Re, and Ptah — and they have no sec- 
ond.” Amon is the name of this single being, Re is his head, and 
Ptah is his body. “Only he is: Amon and Re [and Ptah], together 
three. Three gods are one, and yet the Egyptian elsewhere in- 
sists on the separate identity of each of the three. 

In another group of hymns which has been called monotheistic® 
the god is addressed as a single personage of composite form, 
Amon-Re-Atum-Harakhte, that is, the several sun-, supreme-, and 
national-gods rolled up into one. The text goes on to break this 
being down into his several facets as Amon, Re, Atum, Horus, and 
Harakhte, and also to equate him with Khepri, Shu, the moon, and 
the Nile. Whether this is monotheistic or not depends upon one’s 
definition. It may be hair-splitting, but we prefer to invoke the 
principles of consubstantiality and free interchange of being and 
claim that the Egyptians were monophy site instead of monothe- 
istic. They recognized dilFerent beings but felt those beings to be 
of a single essential substance, a rainbow, in which certain colors 
were dominant under certain conditions and others dominant when 
the conditions altered. A complete personality includes many dif- 
ferent aspects of personality. 

One element of consubstantiality lies in the fact that the Egyp- 
tian gods were very human, with human weaknesses and varying 
moods. They could not remain on a high and consistent plane of in- 
fallibility. And no god was single-mindedly devoted to a single 
function. For example, the god Seth is well known as the enemy 



of the “good” gods Osiris and Homs; therefore, Seth was the 
enemy of good; he was roughly like the devil. Yet throughout 
Egyptian history Seth appeared also as a good god, who functioned 
beneficently for the dead at times, who fought on behalf of the 
sun-god, and who acted positively for the enlargement of the 
Egyptian state. Homs, the good son throughout Egyptian history, 
once flew into a rage at his mother Isis and chopped off her head, so 
that the poor goddess was forced to take the form of a headless 

The Egyptians apparently delighted in the humanness of their 
gods. A well-known story tells how Re, the creator-god, repented 
that he had created mankind, which had devised evil against him. 
He decided to destroy them and sent Sekhmet, the “Powerful,” 
against them. This goddess slew mankind, waded in their blood, 
and exulted in their destraction. Then Re relented and regretted his 
desire to obliterate. Instead of ordering Sekhmet to stop the 
slaughter, he resorted to a stratagem. Seven thousand jars of red- 
colored beer were poured out in Sekhmet’s path, so that she might 
believe that it was blood. She waded lustily into it, became 
drunken, and stopped her slaughtering.’' 

This childish tale, so difiFerent from the biblical story of the 
Flood because of its lack of moral motivation, is told here only to 
emphasize the frequent littleness of the Egyptian gods. They 
changed their minds, and they resorted to tricks to accomplish 
their ends. And yet — ^in a neighboring test — they may be portrayed 
as noble and consistent. 

Another, more sophisticated story tells of a trial in the divine 
tribunal. A minor deity rose and shouted an insult at the supreme, 
presiding god; he cried: “ ‘Thy shrine is empty!’ Then Re- 
Harakhte was pained at this retort which had been made to him, 
and he lay down on his back, and his heart was very, very sore. 
Then the Ennead went out .... to their tents. And so the great 
god spent a day lying on his back in his arbor, alone, while his 
heart was very, very sore.” In order to cure his sulks, the other 
gods sent the goddess of love to him, and she exhibited to him her 
charms. “Then the great god laughed at her; and so he arose and 
sat down (again) with the great Ennead,” and the trial was re- 
sumed.® This is admittedly a lusty tale for entertainment, but its 


characterization of the gods accords with the picture gwen in more 
sober contexts. 

If the gods were so human, it will not be surprising that humans 
could address them in brusque terms. Not infrequently there are 
texts in which the worshiper recalls the nature of his services to 
the gods and threatens those gods who fail to return sertdce for 
service. One of the famous passages in Egyptian literamre is 
called the “Cannibal Hymn,” because the deceased expresses his 
intention of devouring those whom he meets in his path, human or 
divine. It was originally written for the deceased king but was later 
taken over by commoners. “The sky^ is overcast, the stars are be- 
clouded, .... the (very’-) bones of the earth-god tremble, .... 
when they see (this dead man) appear animated as a god who lives 

on his fathers and feeds on his mothers (H^) is the one who 

eats men and lives on gods (He) is the one who eats their 

magic and devours their glory. The biggest of them are for his 
breakfast; their middle-sized are for his dinner; and the smallest 
of them are for his supper. Their old males and females (sen^e 
only) for his fuel.”® 

The effective continuation of that concept is that any human 
might become so magically potent that he could consume the 
greatest of the gods and, by consuming them, take their magic and 
their glory into his own being. That is the ultimate statement of 
consubstantiality from highest to lowest in the universe. It may 
sound childish, like the mighty imaginings of a small boy who 
dreams of becoming Superman and conquering the world. But the 
small boy is not yet grown up, and it is not beyond the range of his 
dreams for his future that he may be incredibly great some day. 
The same range of possibility was present for the Egyptian through 
the single substance which extended from him up into the vast 

This statement which we are making about the single substance 
of the Egyptian universe is true of the earlier long period of Egyp- 
tian thinking, down to perhaps 1300 b.c. Involved in this concept 
of consubstantiality is the feeling that there is no ultimate differ- 
ence between men and gods. It is necessary to make a reservation, 
however, about the later period of Egyptian history. As shall be 
seen in the next chapter, there came a time when a gulf developed 



between weak, little man, and powerful god. In that later period a 
difference was felt, and the two were no longer of the same sub- 
stance. For the present, however, we do not wish to stress the later 

change but rather the earlier unity. , 

Indeed, the more one examines this hypothesis of consubstan- 
tiality, the more exceptions or quahfications one must admit. We 
gave one in the last chapter when we said that the Egypuans did not 
accept foreigners as being like themselves. We shall give another 
later in this chapter, when we point out a difference in adininis ra- 
tive freedom between the king, who was a god, and his ministers, 
who were humans. It is a question whether one is talking about 
difference qualitatively (difference of substance) or quantitatively 
(variations of the same substance) . We take it to be a quantitative 
difference of the same substance. In contrast to ourselves and to 
other peoples, the Egyptians took the universe as being of one con- 
tinuous substance, without any definite line of demarcation be- 

tween part and part. . . ^ . 

To remrn, then, to the question about the disposiuon of the uni- 
verse toward the Egyptian, whether friendly, hostile, or indiffer- 
ent Since there is but one substance reaching from man off into 
the unknowns, the world of the dead, the world of gods “d spir- 
its the world of organic and inorganic narare, this means that the 
frame of reference must be human behavior itself. Are other rnen 
friendly, hostile, or indifferent to us? The answer must be that 
they are not exclusively any of these three dispositions but that in- 
terested beings are benevolent or malevolent, according to whether 
their interests are complementary or competitive, and uninterested 
beings are indifferent. It becomes a matter of the stated concern of 
the force in question, as well as the particular disposition of the 
Leo at a staid time. The sun gives life by warming; but it may 
destroy life by blasting, or it may destroy life by wiffdrawing 
Ilf and chilling. The Nile brings Ufe, but an unusually low or an 
unusually high Nile may bring destruction and death. 

The modem Egyptian feels himself to be surrounded by jmseen 
personalized fortlTthe ginn, each of them concerned wi* some 
phenomenon: a child, a sheep, a house, a tree, running water, fire, 
Itc Some are friendly, some unfriendly; but most are static unle 
one offends them, when they become malevolent, or unless one 


invokes them to benevolence. The ancient Egyptian had a similar 
sense of a surrounding world of forces. A mother had to croon a 
protective song over her sleeping child: “Thou flowing thing that 
comes in darkness and enters furtively in, with her nose behind her 
and her face twisted around, who fails in that for which she came— 
hast thou come to kiss this child? I will not let thee kiss him! Hast 
thou come to strike dumb? I will not let thee strike dumbness into 
him! Hast thou come to injure him? I will not let thee injure him! 
Hast thou come to carry him away? I will not let thee carry him 
away from me! I have made his magical protection against thee 
out of clover .... onions .... honey. . . . In an incantation 
against disease, the malevolent forces which may bring sickness 
include “every blessed male, every blessed female, e^^ery dead 
male, and every dead female,” that is, the dead who have attained 
a state of eternal glory, as well as those who have died without cer- 
tainty of immortality.^^ 

However, despite this surrounding world of uncertain spiritual 
forces, the general rule was that certain beings had a stated func- 
tion or activity, and that activity was either friendly or hostile. 
Thus the generally beneficent functions of the sun, the Nile, the 
north wind, Osiris, or Isis were established; just as the generally 
dangerous or hostile functions of the Apophis-demon, Seth, or 
Sekhmet were established. These functions were general, and at 
times it might be necessary to protect an individual from the 
“good” Osiris or to intrust an individual to the helpful activity of the 
“bad” Seth, just as humans in this world have more than one side 
to their characters. 

If this functional authority and responsibility are clear, then we 
must seek our answer to the functions of the state in those forces 
which had authority over and responsibility for the state. The spec- 
ulative thought of the ancient Egyptians will provide no treatise on 
the philosophy of statecraft or the relation of government to the 
governed, but their speculative thought will play upon the powers, 
attributes, and interests of those gods w'ho were primarily con- 
cerned with Egypt as a going concern. Ultimately our attention fo- 
cuses on statements concerning the “good god” who was king of 
Egypt. We can best discover the functions of the state by deter- 



mining the ideals laid down in scattered sources for the one in- 
dividual responsible for government — the king. 


The Egyptian’s love of symmetrical balance produced an ideal 
raler who was nicely composed of graciousness and terror, be- 
cause rule is nurmre and rule is control. Again and again this bal- 
ance appears in close juxtaposition in the texts. The king is “that 
beneficent god, the fear of whom is throughout the countries like 
(the fear of) Sekhmet in a year of plague.”^^ Poems of praise em- 
phasize the two aspects of his being with bewilderingly sudden 
shifts of emphasis: “Exulting is he, a smasher of foreheads, so 

that none can stand near him He fights without end, he 

spares not, and there is nothing left over (from his destruction) . 
He is a master of graciousness, rich in sweemess, and he conquers 
by love. His city loves him more than its own self and takes more 
joy in him than in its (own local) god.”^® Here, in two adjacent 
statements, it is claimed that the king conquers by lustful destruc- 
tion and that he conquers by kindly love. We are again dealing with 
a personality of more than one side, a spectrum in which one color 
or another may be emphasized. But here speculative thought has its 
reasons in producing a balance of forces. Government must be 
gracious but terrible, just as the sun and the Nile are gracious but 
terrible in their effective power. 

The starting-point of our consideration is the fact that the king 
of Egypt was a god and that he was a god for the purposes of the 
Egyptian state. This was not stated in a nice compact formulation 
which made the pharaoh the personification of the land of Egypt or 
even embodied rule as a personified principle. But the supreme 
god. Re, intrusted the land to his son, the king. From the Old 
Kingdom on, an effective title for the Egyptian pharaoh was the 
“Son of Re.” In mythology the only son of Re was the air-god 
Shu, but the pharaoh was made Son of Re for the specific purpose of 
ruHng Re’s chief concern, the land of Egypt. “As for Egypt, men 
say since (the time of) the gods, she is the only daughter of Re, 
and it is his son that is upon the throne of Shu.”^^ Implicit in this 
statement there was a pairing of god and goddess, Egypt as the 


only daughter of Re and pharaoh as the Son of Re, in those brother- 
sister terms which made up the couples of Egyptian deities. Just as 
the husband was urged by the books of wisdom to take kindly care 
of the wife, because “she is a field advantageous to her lord,”^® so 
the king had ownership, authority, and responsibility over his 
land. It was his to control with power, but if he were wise, he 
would also nurture with care. 

The Egyptian stated repeatedly that the king was the physical 
son who issued from the body of die sun-god Re. To be sure, it was 
recognized that he had been bom of a woman in this world. But 
the father who had begotten him was definitely a god. Re himself 
had to insure the proper divine rule of the land of Egj'pt. Looking 
toward the future, he made earthly visits to produce rulers. A 
story about the origin of the Fifth Dynasty tells of the humble 
mother of the coming ralers. “She is the wufe of an (ordinary) 
priest of Re, Lord of Sakhebu, who is pregnant with three children 
of Re, Lord of Sakhebu, and he (Re) has said of them that they 
shall exercise this beneficent office (of king) in this entire iand.”^® 

Even the problem of the earthly father, in view of the fact that 
kings did exist and apparently did produce sons who became kings, 
was not insurmountable. For purposes of procreation the supreme 
god assumed the form of the living king and gave that seed which 
was to become the “Son of Re.” Hatshepsut was clearly the daugh- 
ter of Thutmose I, but the account of that divine birth which per- 
mitted her to become pharaoh of Egypt makes it clear that there 
was a substitution here, and that the supreme god, Amon-Re, was 
her effective father. The queen-mother w'as selected by the gods, 
and it was recommended that Amon visit her while the pharaoh 
was still in his youthful vigor. “[Amon took] his form [as] the 
majesty [of] this her husband, the King (ThutmSse I) . . . . . Then 
he went to her immediately; then he had intercourse with her. . . . . 
The majesty of this god did all that he desired with her. The words 
which Amon, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, spoke in her 
presence; ‘Now Khenemet-Amon-Hatshepsut is the name of this 
my daughter whom I have placed in thy body She is to ex- 

ercise this benefi[cent king] ship in this entire land.’ No words 
could more explicitly state the divine purposes and divine meth- 



ods. The pharaoh was produced by the supreme deity, masquerad- 
ing as the ruling king, to be a god in order to rule the land. 

In this solar theology the king of Egypt issued out of the body of 
the sun-god and, on death, remrned to the body of his progenitor. 
Here is the statement of the death of a pharaoh; “Year 30, third 
month of the first season, day 9: the god entered his horizon. The 
King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Sehetepibre, went up to heaven 
and was united with the sun-disk, so that the divine body was 
merged with him who made him.”^® This is the necessary comple- 
tion of filial attachment to the supreme god: from conception 
through life to the final triumph over death, the king was the “Son 
of Re.” x\s we shall see, an alternative system of thought made the 
dead king Osiris, ruler of the realm of the dead. 

The formal list of titles which denominated the king of Egypt 
breaks into three groups. We have already seen that he was called 
the son and successor of the sun-god; we shall shortly discuss his 
identification with the god Horus; we shall now consider him as 
incorporating the responsibilities for the two parts of Egypt. 

Physically and culturally the land of Egypt breaks into the nar- 
row trough of the Nile Valley and the spreading Delta. Upper 
Egypt has ties to the desert and to Africa; Lower Egypt faces out 
to the Mediterranean Sea and to Asia. From time immemorial 
these two regions have had a self-conscious separation. Lying so 
close together and yet apart from neighbors, they are aware of 
their differences. The old texts bring out this feeling of contrast. 
One who had impulsively left his office expressed his bewilder- 
ment over the forces that had led him to such unaccountable action: 
“I do not know what sundered me from my place; it was like a 
dream, as if a man of the Delta were (suddenly) to see himself in 
Elephantine.”^® Just as today, the dialects of these two regions 
varied enough to cause misunderstanding. An inept writer was 
chided with these words: “Thy narratives . . . . are confused when 
heard, and there is no interpreter who can unravel them; they are 
like the speech of a man of the Delta with a man of Elephantine.”®® 
These two regions were then disparate, and they were traditionally 
and continuingly competitive. Yet they were a unity in their isola- 
tion from the rest of the world, and they were a unity in their de- 
pendence upon the Nile. It was a function of government to make 


Upper and Lower Egypt an effective single nation. This was done 
by incorporating authority and responsibility for both regions in 
a single figure, the god-king. 

By his formal titles he was Lord of the Two Lands, that is, own- 
er and master; he was King of Upper Egypt and King of Lower 
Egypt, the wearer of the double crown which symbolized the un- 
ion of the tw'o regions; and he was the “Two Ladies,” that is, the 
incorporation of the two tutelary goddesses who represented the 
north and the south. A parallel title, the “Two Lords,” expressed 
the dogma that the two competing gods of Lower and Upper 
Egypt, Horus and Seth, were also physically resident and recon- 
ciled within the person of the king. An important ritual activity of 
the king’s coronation was the “Uniting of the Two Lands,” a cere- 
mony somehow in relation to the throne of a dual kingship. 

Now this self-consciousness about uvo different parts of the 
land was expressed administratively in a duality of office and offi- 
cers. There were two viziers, two treasurers, and often two capi- 
tals. There had to be a recognition of the separate needs of the 
two areas, a sort of states’ rights in administration. But the two 
lands had no final rule except in the single person of the pharaoh, 
who partook of the divinity of each area in exactly balanced meas- 
ure. This worked. In ail stable periods of Egyptian history there 
was only one king of the united Two Lands. The god-king was a 
successful expression of national unity. 

The third group of formal titles for the pharaoh makes him the 
incorporation of the god Horus, a falcon whose divine province 
was the heavens. As in the case of the other two types of titles, the 
“Son of Re,” and the embodiment of the deities of the Two Lands, 
the identification with Horus seems to have made the pharaoh the 
king of all Egypt. We are not precisely sure how this came to be. 
It is trae that the myths indicate that Horus contested for and won 
the rule of his dead father, the god Osiris. Thus Horus came to be 
the living king who had succeeded the dead king, Osiris. Every 
living king was Horus, and every dead king Osiris. But we mod- 
ems would like to reconcile the idea of the kingly Horus as son 
and successor of Osiris and the idea of the “Son of Re,” as kingly 
successor of the sun-god. In consecutive lines of a single text the 



pharaoh is called the son of Osiris, who issued from the body of 
Isis, and it is stated that Re begot his majesty 

Perhaps again we should not seek to sunder ideas which were 
complementary and thus gave added strength to the throne. Prob- 
ably we have concentration on two different aspects of the divin- 
ity of the pharaoh. The title “Son of Re” emphasized the story of 
his physical birth as a god, whereas the title “Horus” emphasized 
his divine credentials to rule in the palace, as the god who had been 
awarded the kingship by the divine tribunal. At any rate, Horus 
ruled the entire land and not simply a part. All the titles taught 
that there was but one being who could hold sway over all Egypt 
by divine right. 

The divine person of the pharaoh was too holy for direct ap- 
proach. An ordinary mortal did not speak “to” the king; he spoke 
“in the presence of” the king. Various circumlocutions were em- 
ployed to avoid direct reference to the king: “May thy majesty 
hear,” instead of “mayest thou hear,” and “one gave command,” 
instead of “he gave command.” One of these circumlocutions, 
per-aa, “the Great House,” gave rise to our word “pharaoh,” in 
somewhat the same way as we modernly say: “The White House 
today announced ” 

It is not clear that this avoidance of verbal contact with awful 
majesty was paralleled by an avoidance of physical contact with 
the royal person. To be sure, there is a somewhat obscure tale 
about a courtier who was touched by the king’s ceremonial staff, 
after which the king gave him firm assurances that he was to suffer 
no hurt thereby. The mere bumping with a stick is not enough to 
justify the magnification of the tale into something worth carving 
on a tomb wall. Arguably the blight of majesty was so terrible 
that it had to be ©corcised by royal words Possibly we personally 
overvalue this text, as it has been pointed out to us that the king’s 
assurances may be rather an apology than the exorcising of a blight. 
A royal apology might be a sufficient mark of attention to warrant 
recording in a tomb. 

A similar uncertainty clouds the next example. A late story has 
a rather puzzling joke. The shadow of the sunshade of a foreign 
prince fell upon an Egyptian, and there was an ironic warning to 


the Egyptian to beware, for the shadow of the pharaoh of Egypt 
had touched him. This sounds as though an intimate part of the 
royal person like the shadow was too fraught with holiness for 
human approach."® If so, the body of the king will also have been 
dangerous for the ordinary mortal. But the pharaoh certainly had 
his personal attendants and body servants, and there must have 
been means of delivering them from the blight of majesty. The first 
principle is surely that of Diodorus (i. 70), that the royal servants 
were selected from the highest classes, close to the king in blood. 
The second principle will have been that the other gods had their 
personal attendants, who cared for their most intimate needs, and 
so the divine king could also have his priestly servants, authorized 
to act for his person and thus not to be blasted by contact with a 
god. It is significant that the same epithet, “pure of hands,” was 
used for the priests who served the gods and for the personal at- 
tendants on the king. 

As our evidence on the physical unapproachability of the phar- 
aoh is weak, we wish to adduce a few additional points, none of 
which clinches the case. Certain individuals were granted close ac- 
cess to the king and exempt from any blight of holiness. This was 
probably implicit in such titles as “Sole Companion,” “Privy 
Councilor of the House of the Morning,” “He Who Is Beside the 
King” (literally, “under the head of the King”). Some favored in- 
dividuals were graciously permitted to kiss the royal foot, instead 
of kissing the ground before the pharaoh (Urk. I, 41; 53; BAR, I, 
260) . The uraeus-serpent on the brow of the king was a fire-spit- 
ting sorceress, who protected the royal person from any approach 
of unauthorized persons. Whether these instances fall short of a 
dogma of unapproachability or not is an open question to us. 

Just as the person of the king arguably had a dangerously high 
voltage, so also his lofty responsibilities involved knowledge and 
abilities beyond the ken of ordinary man. As one of his chief min- 
isters said: “Now his majesty knows what takes place. There is 
nothing at all which he does not know. He is (the god of wisdom) 
Thoth in everything: there is no subject which he has not compre- 
hended.”®^ Or his groveling courtiers told him : “Thou art like Re 
in all that thou doest. What thy heart desires flow's forth. If thou 
desirest a plan in the night, at dawn it comes into being quickly . 



We have seen a multitude of thy marvels since thou didst appear 
as King of the Two Lands. We cannot hear, nor can our eyes see 
(how it happens) ; yet (things) come into being everywhere.”^® 
This was superhuman; it was the closely guarded secret of king- 
ship. At a time when the state was overthrown and rule crumbled 
into anarchy, it was thought to be the release of this “secret” that 
permitted the impious fragmentation of divine rule: “Behold, it 
has come to (a point where) the land is stripped of the kingship 

by a few irresponsible people Behold, the secret of the land, 

whose limits are unknown, is divulged, so that the (royal) resi- 
dence is overthrown in an hour The secrets of the kings of 

Upper and Lower Egypt have been divulged.”^® 

We cold modem analysts view the doctrines of the divinity, the 
blighting majesty, and the mystery of the Egyptian king as mere 
propaganda devices to bolster the person of a man who was solely 
responsible for the state. But they cannot be brushed aside for that 
reason. They had the reality of long-continuing success. They 
were as real in ancient Egypt as in Solomon’s Temple at Jemsalem 
— or as in modern Japan. 

He was a lonely being, this god-king of Egypt. All by himself he 
stood between humans and gods. Texts and scenes emphasize his 
solitary responsibility. The temple scenes show him as the only 
priest in ceremonies before the gods. A hymn to a god states: 
“There is no one else that knows thee except thy son, (the king), 
whom thou causest to understand thy plans and thy power.”^’^ It 
was the king who built temples and cities, who won battles, who 
made laws, who collected taxes, or who provided the bounty for 
the tombs of his nobles. The fact that the pharaoh might not have 
heard about a battle until it was reported to the royal court was 
immaterial; the literary and pictorial myth of Egypt’s might de- 
manded that he be shown as defeating the enemy single-handed. 
An Egyptian in a provincial town might make contractual provision 
for the delivery of goods to his tomb after death; the reigning 
pharaoh need have nothing to do with this transaction; in the age- 
long framework of mortuary activity the goods would come as an 
“offering which the king gives,” a mark of royal favor. 

Only the national gods might intervene in the affairs of the 
state: the sun-god might ask the king to clear away the sand from 


the Sphinx, or Amon might commission the king to undertake a 
campaign against the Libyans. Otherwise pharaoh was the state, 
because he was himself a national god, specifically charged to 
carry out the functions of the state. 

Because we can penetrate the trappings of divinity and discern 
the human heart of the pharaoh, we can sympathize with the lone- 
liness of his administration. The other gods might temporarily 
escape to realms outside this world. He alone was a god who had 
to live out his solitary life surrounded by humans. Those humans 
through daily intimacy might dare to encroach upon his omnis- 
cience and omnipotence. One aged king has left a weary warning 
to his son and successor: “Thou that hast appeared as a god, listen 
to what I have to say to thee, so that thou mayest be king over the 
land and ruler over the river banks, so that thou mayest achieve an 
overabundance of good. Hold thyself together against those sub- 
ordinate (to thee), lest that should happen to whose terrors no 
thought has been given. Do not approach them in thy loneliness. 
Fill not thy heart with a brother, know not a friend, nor create for 

thyself intimates — that has no (happy) outcome I gave to 

the poor and brought up the orphan .... (but) it was he who ate 
my food that raised up troops (against me) .... and they who 
were clothed in my fine linen looked upon me as (mere) dried 
weeds.”^® The penalty of being a god was the removal of divinity 
from the world of humanity. The gods had sent him forth to tend 
mankind, but he was not of mankind. 

This is perhaps the most fitting picture of the good Egyptian 
ruler, that he was the herdsman for his people. The functions of the 
state were to own, control, drive, discipline, and defend; they were 
also to cherish, nurture, shelter, and enlarge the population. The 
god-sent controller of the Egyptian people was the herdsman who 
kept them in green pastures, fought to secure fresh pastures for 
them, drove off the voracious beasts who attacked them, belabored 
the cattle who strayed out of line, and helped along the weaklings. 

The Egyptian texts use the same picmre. One of the pharaohs 
stated why the god had made him ruler: “He made me the herds- 
man of this land, for he discerned that I would keep it in order for 
him; he intrusted to me that which he protected.”^® In a time of 
distress, men looked toward the ideal king of the future: “He is 



the herdsman of every one, without evil in his heart. His herd may 
be cut down (in numbers) , but he will spend the day in caring for 
them.”®® Elsewhere the king is called “the goodly herdsman, 
watchful for all mankind whom their maker has placed under his 
supervision.”®^ The sun-god “appointed him to be shepherd of 
this land, to keep alive the people and the folk, not sleeping by 
night as well as by day in seeking out every beneficial act, in look- 
ing for possibilities of usefulness.”®® The antiquity of this concept 
of the king is visible in the fact that a shepherd’s crook is one of the 
earliest insignia of the pharaoh and is the origin of one of the 
words meaning “to rule.” 

The concept of the herdsman has its negative pole in the impli- 
cation that men are simply cattle, property on a lower stage of ex- 
istence. This attitude is never given in a single statement, because 
the view that the pharaoh was the Lord, or Possessor, of the Two 
Lands was taken for granted, and the texts naturally concentrated 
attention on the proper care of property rather than on the fact of 
property itself. For example, one long story deals with an injustice 
done to a peasant and his protests that those who administer jus- 
tice have a responsibility to take a constructive rather than a pas- 
sive attitude toward their clients. It was necessary to reject cer- 
tain customary expressions of indifference to the fortunes of ordi- 
nary men. For example, a proverb, “The poor man’s name is pro- 
nounced (only) for his master’s sake,” is cited as an expression of 
nonjustice against which the peasant is struggling.®® A magistrate 
was urged by other ofEcials not to intervene on behalf of the 
peasant, because the latter had gone over the head of his immediate 
master. Do not disturb the ordinary disciplinary rights of a master; 
“behold, it is what they (normally) do to peasants of theirs who 
go to others instead of to them”; the operation of justice should not 
interfere with the control of property.®^ Characteristically this 
text has an ultimate triumph of justice, because the Egyptians al- 
ways rejected the narrow belief that the owner has no responsibil- 
ity to maintain his property. At the positive pole, the herdsman’s 
duty was to nurture and build up his herds. 

The herdsman is primarily the pastor, the “feeder,” and a first 
responsibility of the state was to see that the people were fed. 
Thus the king of Egypt was the god who brought fertility to 


Egypt, produced the life-giving waters, and presented the gods 
with the sheaf of grain which symbolized abundant food. Indeed, 
an essential function of his kingship was that of a medicine man, 
whose magic insured good crops. In one of the ceremonials of 
kingship, the pharaoh encircled a field four times as a rite of con- 
ferring fertility upon the land.^ He controlled the water which 
made Egypt and made her fertile. “The Nile is at his service, and 
he opens its cavern to give life to Egypt.”®® As his courtiers told 
him: “If thou thyself shouldst say to thy father, the Nile, the father 
of the gods; ‘Let water flow forth upon the mountains!’ he will act 
according to all that thou hast said.”®’^ 

As the pharaoh controlled the water of Egypt, the Nile, so also 
he was a rainmaker for the foreign countries. One te.xr makes the 
king of the Hittites say that his land must make overtures to 
pharaoh, for “if the god accepts not its offering, it sees not the 
waters of heaven, since it is in the power of” the king of Egypt.®® 
Pharaoh himself was a little more modest; he did not pose as the 
rainmaker for lands abroad but as the intermediary to the gods for 
water. Thinking of a diplomatic deputation which he had sent to 
Syria and Anatolia, “his majesty took counsel with his own heart; 
‘How will it go with those whom I have sent out, who are going 
on a mission to Djahi in these days of rain and snow which come in 
winter?’ Then he made an offering to his father, (the god) Seth; 
then he came praying and said: ‘Heaven is in thy hands, and earth 
is under thy feet. .... [Mayest] thou [delay] to make the rain 
and the north wind and the snow until the marvels reach me which 
thou hast assigned to me!’ .... Then his father Seth heard every 
word, and the heavens were peaceful, and summer days came for 

All nature that had reference to the prosperity of Egypt was un- 
der the sway of the pharaoh. He was the “lord of the sweet 
breeze,” the cooling wind from the Mediterranean which made 
Egypt habitable.'*® Nay, even more, as the master-magician he con- 
trolled the moon and the stars, so that the months, days, and hours 
came with regular cadence. A hymn of joy at the accession of one 
of the kings runs: “Be gay of heart, the entire land, for the goodly 
times have come! A lord has been given to all lands! . . . . The 
Waters stand and are not dried up, and the Nile carries a high 



(flood). (Now) the days are long, the nights have hours, and the 
moons come normally. The gods are at rest and happy of heart, 
and people live (in) laughter and wonder By doctrine and by 
continuing ritual, pharaoh was the god who gave to Egypt its nor- 
mal times and seasons, who brought the abundant waters, and who 
gave the fertile crops. 

In actual practice there was administrative justification for the 
dogma of treating pharaoh as a water- and field-god. It seems that 
the central government also maintained the national astronomical 
and calendrical offices, although we lack full proof here. As one 
document in the case we cite a black ebony bar in the collections of 
the Oriental Institute museum at the University of Chicago. This 
is part of an astronomical apparatus for charting the movements 
of the stars, and it was inscribed with the name of Tutankhamon. 
Whether this was his royal hobby, or whether the observa- 
tion of the heavenly bodies was a function of kingship, we cannot 
be sure. We can say that the dogma that the pharaoh was respon- 
sible for food, water, and seasons was carried out by the function 
of bureaus of the royal government. 

Diodorus paints a dreadful picture of the king of Egypt as the 
slave of regulations which controlled his every hour and every act. 
“The hours of both the day and night were laid out according to 
a plan, and at the specified hours it was absolutely required of the 
king that he should do what the laws stipulated and not what he 
thought best” (i. 70-71). Diodorus goes on to state that these 
regulations covered not only the king’s administrative actions but 
also his own freedom to take a walk, bathe, or even sleep with his 
wife. He was allowed no personal initiative in his governmental 
functions but was required to act only in conformance with the 
established laws. Diodorus insists that the last of the pharaohs 
were quite happy in this tightly laced straitjacket of prescription 
because they believed that men who followed their natural emo- 
tions fell into error, whereas the kings, in depending rigidly on 
the law, were personally freed from responsibility for wrong- 

Diodorus’ hollow shell of a king is paralleled by the empty pic- 
ture which Herodotus (ii. 37) gives of Egyptian religion at his 
time, when he says that the Egyptians were more religious than 


any other nation — the word used is theosebes, “god-fearing.” It 
turns out that Herodotus means that they were slavishly devoted 
to ritual, most scrupulous about ceremonial cleanliness and the 
prescribed forms, but without the slightest indication of spiritual- 
ity or of a working ethics. 

In the next chapter we wish to draw a distinction between an 
earlier and a later period of ancient Egyptian history. In the earlier 
period the spirit was broadly one of conformance to precept, but 
the proof was laid upon the individual to show himself worthy by 
his own actions and his own freedom of decision within general 
law. In the later period the spirit was solely one of conformance to 
precept, with the individual charged to exhibit patience and humil- 
ity in following that which the gods had laid down. It is our belief 
that Diodorus and Herodoras were both relating a practice and a 
spirit which were not normal to the Egypt discussed in these chap- 
ters. The atmosphere of their times was one of withdrawal into 
long-hallowed practice; the earlier atmosphere was one of free 
play of individual initiative within the general framework of hu- 
man law and what we have called the “divine order.” 

The earlier kings of Egypt, of the period when that culture was 
developing as a native growth, were encouraged to express in- 
dividuality as a part of the divine and worldly order to which they 
belonged. This earlier scene emphasized personal justice rather 
than impersonal law. We shall take up the concept of justice in the 
next chapter, which is devoted to an examination of “The Values 
of Life”; for the present the reader must accept our word that 
Egy^ptian ma'^at means “justice,” one of the essential attributes 
of the Egyptian state, and that this justice does not appear to have 
been codified in statutes and precedents but was expressed in right- 
dealing in relation to persons and situations. The ruler who dis- 
pensed justice w'as urged to dispense it in relation to need, indeed, 
to give more than was due. The state thus did have a responsibility 
to act with initiative to meet the needs of the nation. 

; We shall not defend this thesis that rule was personal and flex- 
ible — ^paternalistic, if you please— -except to throw out one or two 
examples of protest against impersonal nonjustice. That peasant 
whom we have mentioned as struggling against injustice did not 
faimbly submit to discipline from a magistrate. Instead he cried 



out bitterly; “So then the son of Meru goes on erring!” and went 
on with a series of bitter charges against the lack of ruling prin- 
ciple in the high official: that he was like a town without a mayor 
or a ship without a skipper. Similarly, Ramses II, when abandoned 
in battle, turned angrily against the imperial god Amon and cried 
out: “What is the matter with thee, my father Amon! Has a father 
ever forgotten his son? Have I ever done anything apart from 
thee?” and continued to recite his benefits to the god as deserving 
of better return.^® There is here no resignation to destiny or to the 
inscrutable plans of the gods; there is here an indignant sense that 
personal worth must be rewarded. It would be easy to multiply ex- 
amples from the earlier period of Egyptian history to show that 
rulers did not operate in an impersonal mechanism of law and cus- 
tom but were free-acting individuals. 

To be sure, there was a prescribed pattern for the ideal king and 
there were hallowed precedents; let us examine some of the pre- 
scriptions laid down for the good ruler. He turns out to be a com- 
position of love and terror, which the Egyptians took to be com- 
plementary colors in the same spectrum. Good rule was paternal- 
istic, and there was a devotion to the principle of disciplinary con- 
trol. That is not as fantastic as it may seem to a generation given 
over to a progressive education. The Egyptian word “to teach” is 
also the word “to punish,” like our word “discipline,” and it was 
apparently felt that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” The 
components of good rule were god-given authority and godlike 

In the preceding chapter we examined the text of the Memphite 
Theology, in which the continuing creative principles were the 
heart wHch conceived thought and the tongue which produced 
command. In that connection we mentioned a pair of related at- 
tributes of the sun-god, which were themselves personified as de- 
ities, Hu, “authoritative utterance,” or the commanding speech 
which brings a situation into being, and Sia, “perception,” the 
cognitive reception of an object, idea, or simation. These are god- 
like qualities, the perception of something in integrated and con- 
structive terms and the consequent authoritative utterance which 
creates something new. 

These two qualities were not confined to the sun-god; they were 


also attributes of the king. To the pharaoh it was said: “Authori- 
tative utterance is indeed that which is in thy mouth, and percep- 
tion [is that which] is in [thy heart] Two other texts may be 
cited as combining these two qualities of discernment and com- 
mand as essential kingly characteristics,^^ but we are more inter- 
ested in the fact that some texts added a third member to the com- 
bination which a ruler needed. In the two passages, “authoritative 
utterance, perception, and justice are with thee”'*® and “authorita- 
tive utterance is in thy mouth, perception is in thy heart, and thy 
tongue is the shrine of justice,”^’ the word “justice” or “right- 

dealing” or “truth,” is added as the moral control which must ac- 
company intelligence and authority. 

Justice was the quality which accompanied a good ruler to the 
throne. In a time of national disorder, it was prophesied that a 
king would arise to unite the Two Lands, “and justice will come 
into its place, and unrighteousness will be driven out.”*® A poet 
rejoicing at the accession of a new king cried out: “Justice 
has banished deceit!”*® a consummation of proper times, as is indi- 
cated by the accompanying words: “and normalcy has come down 
(again) into its place.”®® Daily the king offered up justice to the 
god, symbolically presenting the little hieroglyph of the goddess 
Ma'at, “Truth” or “Justice.” By this fact of daily ritual offering, 
justice did tend to become a mere form, which might be delivered 
through literal conformance to law or ritual. 

But there was also a constant insistence that justice is some- 
thing more positive than mere neutral conformance, that it lies in 
doing more than is required. The longest discourse on justice re- 
ferred to divine law in equating justice and goodness: “But justice 
(lasts) forever and goes down into the necropolis with him who 
renders it. When he is buried and joined to the earth, his name is 
not wiped out on earth, but he is remembered for goodness. That 
is a principle of the divine order.”®* The writer related justice to a 
golden rule of doing unto others what might be expected from 
them. “Do to the doer in order to cause him to do (for thee) . That 
is thanking him for what he may do; that is parrying something be- 
fore it is shot.”®® Carrying the thought even further, the writer 
rejected injustice as lying in mere minimal performance of duty, 
like the ferryman who insisted upon payment before conveying 



passengers across the stream. Addressing the indilFerent magis- 
trate, he said: “Behold, thou art a ferryman who carries over 
(only) the one who has a fare, a straight-dealer whose straight- 
dealing is clipped short.”®^ Such impersonal rule, lacking in pater- 
nal benevolence, was really the absence of rule: “Behold, thou art 
a town without its mayor, .... like a ship which has no captain, a 
company without its leader.”®^ Insistently through the texts ran 
the obligation of the ruler to render on the basis of need and not 
on the basis of a quid pro quo trade. Intelligent perception of situa- 
tions, the ability to command with authority, and straightforward 
justice were three main attributes of rule, and proper justice in- 
volved the quality of mercy. 

Perhaps we may use a single text to summarize the combination 
of benevolence and force which characterized good rule as personi- 
fied in the king. It is the instruction which a high official left for 
his children.®® “Adore ye within your bodies King Nemaatre, 
living forever, and associate his majesty with your hearts. He is 
perception which is in your hearts, for his eyes search out every 
body. He is Re, by whose beams one sees; he is one who makes the 
Two Lands brighter than (does) the sun-disk. He is one who makes 
the land greener than (does) a high Nile. (Thus) he has filled the 
Two Lands with strength and life. Nostrils are chilled if he in- 
clines toward rage, so that he is peaceful in order that the air may 
be breathed. He gives food to those who follow him and supplies 
provisions to him who treads his path. The king is the ka, and his 
mouth is abundance. That means that he brings into being him 
who is to be.” 

The equation of the king with the ka as a constructing and pro- 
visioning force deserves a brief comment. The ka was that de- 
tached part of the personality which planned and acted for the 
rest of the person. Pictorially the ka was shown in the arms extend- 
ed for support and protection. It was bom with the individual as 
an identical twin, accompanied him through life as the sustaining, 
constracting force, and preceded him in death to effect his success- 
ful existence in the next world. It is hard to supply a succinct trans- 
lation for this concept, although we like the term “vital force,” 
which has been used by some. Elsewhere the king is again called: 
“The goodly ka that makes the Two Lands festive and meets the 


needs of the entire land.”®® The ruler was thus seen as the con- 
structive vital force of Egypt, creating and sustaining. 

Resuming our text: “He is (the fashioning god) Khnum for all 
bodies, the begetter who brings people into being. He is (the kindly 
goddess) Bastet, who protects the Two Lands; (but) he who 
adores him will escape his arm. He is (the punishing goddess) 
Sekhmet against him who transgresses his command; (but) he is 
mild toward him who has troubles.” In those last two equations 
we find the characteristic balance of protection and force, punish- 
ment and magnanimity. The text then concludes with the injunction 
that loyalty to the king means life and success, disloyalty means 
obliteration. “Fight for his name; be pure for his life; and ye shall 
be free from (any) trace of sin. He whom the king has loved will 
be a revered (spirit), but there is no tomb for him who rebels 
against his majesty: his corpse shall be cast into the water. If ye do 
these things, your bodies shall be sound. (So) shall ye find it for- 

As there was a constant urging of the ruler toward the positive 
pole of justice, so there was always an urging him away from the 
negative pole of the arbitrary use of authority. The punishment of 
infractions of rule was certainly necessary, but it was also neces- 
sary to temper the exercise of force against excess. “Beware lest 
thou punish wrongfully. Do not slaughter: that is not to thy ad- 
vantage; but thou shouldst punish with beatings and with arrests. 
Thereby this land shall be (well) founded.” The one crime de- 
serving death is treason against the state. “The exception is the 
rebel, when his schemes are discovered, for the god knows the 
treacherous of heart, and the god strikes down his sins in blood.”®^ 

THE king’s officials 

This statement has been devoted to the ideals of good rule as 
personified in the king. Only through protest has it appeared that 
there was a practical situation in which the king had to delegate 
authority and government to others, and in which the growth of 
the state led to a venal and job-holding bureaucracy. In part, we 
could ignore that, as this chapter is devoted to the functions of the 
state as formulated in the speculation of men, and those functions 
were summed up in the ideals laid down for the good ruler. But it 



would be unfair to leave the impression that the Egyptians were so 
devoted to principle that they carried it successfully into practice. 
There was a constant fragmentation of rule, breaking it down into 
the subordinate functions and functionaries, until the minor bu- 
reaucrats were far removed from the god-king in whom were em- 
bodied the good principles of government. 

In a country where offices multiply beyond the limit of personal 
accountability, the goal becomes office-holding as a sinecure with 
potentially high rewards. We possess many documents from an- 
cient Egypt urging the young man to become a scribe or govern- 
ment clerk because it is a respectable, clean, and easy job. “Put 
writing in thy heart, so that thou mayest protect thine own person 
from any (kind of) labor and be a respected official.”®^ Other lines 
of activity were burdensome; “the scribe, however, he is the one 
who directs the work of everybody (else) . He pays out taxes by 
writing, so that he has no (real) obligations.”®® 

This implicit contempt for responsibility went along with the 
feeling that the job should provide left-handed resources. We are 
given a moving description of the poor man thrust into the law 
courts without a sponsor; the court squeezes him, and he hears the 
cry: “Silver and gold for the clerks of the court! Clothes for the 
attendants!”®® In that situation he might well burst out: “Seizers! 
robbers! plunderers! officials! — and yet appointed to punish evil! 
Officialdom is the refuge of the arrogant — and yet appointed to 
punish falsehood!”®^ Under this weight of cynical and corrupt offi- 
cials, the ordinary citizen groaned: “The land is diminished, but 
its rulers are increased. (The land is) bare, but its taxes are heavy. 
The grain is little, but the grain measure is large and measured (by 
the tax officials) to overflowing.”®® 

Of course, there are exaggerations on both sides, the picture of 
the ideal rule of justice was never one of attainment, and the cor- 
ruption of the ruling class differed from age to age and from indi- 
vidual to individual. Egypt was never wholly noble or wholly cor- 
rupt. The definition of justice and the conflict between a moral jus- 
tice and the arbitrary exercise of authority were perennial issues 
in the land. 

It is often difficult for us to be sure whether protests against 
corruption were based on high moral grounds or arose out of 


politics, the attack of the outs against the ins. For example, an 
Egyptian official denounced the lAventieth Dynasty tomb rob- 
beries, in which high administrators surely played a lucrative part. 
WslS the protesting official activated by sincere indignation 
against the desecration of holy property and the cynical participa- 
tion of his colleagues? Or was he one who had not got his “cut” 
and was trying “to put the squeeze on the gang”?®^ Was the lofty 
revolution of Akhnaton against the all-embracing control of the 
old imperial gods — a revolution which used the slogan of ma'at, 
“justice” — a moral protest against the abuse of power or simply a 
political move to secure power for a new party? We cannot give 
final answers to these questions; the situation will never permit a 
simple arbitrary analysis; and our answers may arise out of per- 
sonal prejudices. I, for example, am incurably romantic and char- 
itable; whether politics played a part or not, I believe that men 
were swayed by rightful wrath against abuses. The divine order, 
which made man one with the gods, demanded that humans have 
something of the divine in them. And justice was the food upon 
which the gods lived. 

Since the king was the state by official doctrine, and since he had 
to delegate his authority and responsibility to others, it will be 
instructive to examine the wmrds in which he deputized rule to his 
chief officer, the vizier. These words were a formulation of the 
principles of rule, with one minor qualification. Delegated author- 
ity lays a greater emphasis on the how of rule rather than the why. 
It will operate more in an atmosphere of law and precedent than in 
an atmosphere of unconstrained and topical justice. To the magis- 
trate law and justice may be the same. 

Nevertheless, the vizier was sufficiently high placed to use his 
own discretion at times, and there is evidence that the best of 
viziers would play by ear rather than note. At least, that is our in- 
terpretation of ruling the land “with his fingers.” The text in ques- 
tion is a hymn to the god Amon-Re as the magistrate to whom the 
poor and helpless may turn. “Amon-Re .... thou vizier of the 
poor man! He does not accept an unrighteous reward; he does not 
speak (only) to him who can bring wimesses; he does not give 
attention (only) to him who makes promises. (No), Amon judges 
the land with his fingers; his words belong to the heart. He sepa- 



rates the unjust and consigns him to the fiery place, but the right- 
eous to the west.”®^ The divine pattern for the official operated in 
terms of justice and need rather than law and property. 

When the king was installing the vizier in office, he had certain 
general charges to make about the spirit of rule, as distinct from 
the practices of administration. 

“Look thou to this office of vizier; be vigilant concerning [all] 
that is done in it. Behold, it is the supporting (post) of the entire 
land. Now, with regard to the vizierate, behold, it is by no means 

sweet— nay, it is bitter Behold, it does not mean giving his 

attention (only) to officials and councilors, nor (yet) making [de- 
pendents] of everybody Therefore, see to it for thyself that 

all [things] are done according to that which conforms to the law 
and that all things are done according to the precedent therefor in 
[setting every man in] his just deserts.” The reason given for 
conformance to law and precedent is that a public official cannot 
escape public knowledge of his actions. “Behold, as for the official 
who is in public view, the (very) waters and winds make report of 

all tliat he does; so, behold, his deeds cannot be unknown 

Now the officials’ place of refuge lies in acting in conformance 
with the regulations, that is, in doing that [concerning] which a 
commitment has been made [to] the petitioner 

Thus far there has been little moral motivation in the instruc- 
tions. The vizier is in public view, and the “bitterness” of his 
office lies in the rigid application of law. What follows shows the 
same austerity, although the emphasis shifts to unmoved equity in 
administering law. “The abomination of the god is an exhibition of 
partiality. This is the instruction, and thus shalt thou act: ‘Thou 
shalt look upon him whom thou knowest like him whom thou 
.knowest not, upon him who has access to [thy person] like him 
who is far [from thy household].’ .... Do not be severe with a 
man wrongfully; thou shouldst be severe (only) over that which 
merits severity. Inspire fear of thyself, so that men fear thee, (for) 
the official who is feared is a (real) official.” That sounds harsh, 
and it therefore must be mitigated by words of caution. “Behold 
[the respect for an official (comes from the fact) that he dispenses] 
justice. Behold, if a man inspires the fear of himself a million times, 
there is something wrong with him in the opinion of the people, 


and they do not say of him: ‘[There is] a man!’ .... Behold, 
(thus) thou shouldst attach to thy carrying-out of this office thy 
carrying-out of justice,”®® 

These are the terms of good government as expressed by the 
king to his first official. They are somewhat formal; justice lies in 
the impartial administration of law rather than the redress of hu- 
man injustice. The words of the vizier himself in commenting on 
his activities mitigate this impression only slightly; “When I 
judged a petitioner, I showed no partiality, I did not incline my 
brow because of a reward, .... but I rescued the timid man from 
the arrogant.”®’' A trace of mercy does appear here, but there is no 
insistence on anything except probity and evenhandedness. Per- 
haps the answer is that justice outside the law could not be dele- 
gated by one man to another, but each man must discover for him- 
self where he might make exceptions to law in order to achieve 
justice. Perhaps the answer is that perception, authoritative utter- 
ance, and justice were godly characteristics, which were retained 
by the godly pharaoh. At any rate, it was safer for a human deputy 
to find his “place of refuge” in “conformance with the regula- 
tions.” On the other hand, full discretion to operate within or 
without the legal statutes could be conceded to the divine pharaoh, 
who was himself “the lord of destiny and he wffio creates for- 
tune.”®® Such a one, in the unimpeded exercise of intelligence, com- 
mand, and justice, could inspire those twin products of good gov- 
ernment; love and fear. 

In this chapter we have seen that the universe w^as of a single 
substance and that the king was the point of contact between men 
and gods as the divine ruler vested w'ith concern for the state. We 
have seen that his responsibility as herdsman for his people im- 
plied a balance of force and tender care. We have seen that the 
king was supposed to exercise a creative intelligence, an ability 
to issue proper commands, and a justice which was something 
more than law. His officials were more constrained to law and 
precedent, but the king’s divine qualities permitted him a discre- 
tion in the effecting of proper rule. 

Involved in all this discussion there are unanswered questions 
dealing with the moral purposes of the state, outside of the mere 
aspect of the state as property. Such problems involve the pur- 



poses of individual or group life and moral distinctions between 
right and wrong. Now we shall wrestle with some of those ques- 


1. Urk. IV, 614-18. 

2. Memphite Theology, 60-61. 

3. Sehetepibre. 

4. Leyden Amon Hymn, 4:21-26. 

5. Beatty IV, Recto. 

6. Beatty I, 9:7-10. 

7. Destruction, 1-24. 

8. Beatty I, 3:10 — 4:3. 

9. Pyr. 393-404. 

10. Mutter und Kind, 1 : 9 — 2 : 6. 

11. Smith, 19:6. 

12. Sinuhe, B44-45. 

13. Ibid,, 55-67. 

14. Israel, 12-13. 

15. Ptahhotep 330. 

16. Westcar, 9:9-11. 

17. Urk. IV, 219-21. 

18. Sinuhe, R5; cf. Urk. IV, 896. 

19. Sinuhe, B224-26. 

20. Anast. I, 28 : 5-6. 

21. Nauri, 3-4. 

22. Urk. I, 232. 

23. Wenamon, 2:45-47. 

24. Urk. IV, 1074. 

25. Kubban, 13-14. 

26. Admon., 7:2-6. 

27. Aton Hymn, 12. 

28. Amenemhet, 1:2-6. 

29. Berlin Leather Roll, 1 : 6. 

30. Admon., 12:1, 

31. Diimichen, Hist, Inschr., 11, 39:25. 

32. Cairo 34501. 

33. Peasant, B 18-20. 

34. Peasant, B42-46. 

'iS, Amkcta orientalia, 17 :4 ff. 

'^6, Egyptian Religimy l91f^, 

37. Kubban, 21-22. 

3B.;. Anast,' II, 2:4, , 

39, Marriage, 36-38. 


40. Egyptian Religion, 1933, p, 4 1 . 

41. Sail.], 8:7— 9:1. 

42. Peasant, Bl, 188 fF. 

43. Kadesh Poem, 26. 

44. Petrie, Koptos, xii, 3 : 4. 

45. Pyr. 300, 307. 

46. Admon., 12:12. 

47. Knbban, 18. 

48. Neferrohu, 68-69. 

49. Sail. 1, 8:9-10. 

50. Ibid., 8:8. 

5 1 . Peasant, B 3 07-1 1 . 

52. Ibid., Bl09~n. 

53. Ibid., B171-73. 

54. Ibid., B 189-92. 

55. Sehetepibre. 

56. A?mrm, III, 29. 

57. Merikare, 48-50. 

58. Lansing, 9:3. 

59. Sail. I, 6:8-9. 

60. Anast. 11, 8:5-7. 

61. Peasant, B 296-9 8. 

62. Neferrohu, 50-51. 

63. Ci.JEA, 22:186. 

64. Bologna 1094, 2:3-7. 

65. Urk. IV, 1087-89. 

66. Ibid., 1090-92. 

67. Ibid., 1082. 

68. Inscr. dedic., 36. 




I N THE two preceding chapters few would quarrel with the 
generalizations that the ancient Egyptian saw his wider uni- 
verse in terms of his own immediate environment and experience 
and that the state had been intrusted to the divine pharaoh so that 
he might control and nurture it as a herdsman tends his cattle. Now, 
however, we are to search for the values which the ancient Egyp- 
tian attached to life. If our thesis so far is valid, that man was an 
essential part of a consubstantial universe and that man therefore 
applied the norm of the human to the nonhuman, we shall need to 
know what norm he applied to himself. Here we come to the real 
problem of speculative thought: What am I here for? Here it is 
not possible to compound out one nice generalization to cover two 
thousand years of history. And such generalizations as may be 
made will not find as wide an acceptance among other scholars, 
because we inevitably use our own personal philosophies to evalu- 
ate the philosophies of others. Our conclusions may be fairly ac- 
curate on the nature of the evidence, but on the value of the evi- 
dence we shall hang our personal estimates. 

What were the purposes of life? In order to secure a visible pic- 
ture of the possible answers, we might make a visit to Egypt and 
go down into two structures which should be comparable.^ Each is 
the tomb of an Egyptian vizier, that highest official of the land, the 
first deputy under die king. Near the Step Pyramid at Saqqara we 
enter the tomb of a vizier of the Old Kingdom, a man who lived 
about 2400 B.c. The rooms are crammed and packed with vigorous 
scenes of life and the lust for more life. The vizier is shown spear- 
ing fish, while his servants bring a bellowing hippopotamus to bay. 
The vizier supervises the roping and butchering of cattle, the plow- 
ing and harvesting of the fields, the carpenters and metal-workers 
in their shops, and the building of boats for his funeral services. 



He presides over the vigorous punishment of tax delinquents, and 
he watches the games of children. Even when he is in repose, as 
when he listens to his wife playing the harp, he gives the impres- 
sion of high potential, of being ready to spring into action. Non- 
spiritual and active life is the foil account of this tomb. This is 
his monument for eternity; this is how he wants to be remem- 
bered; this is the good life which he wishes to extend into eter- 

We leave this tomb and walk a few hundred yards to the tomb 
of a vizier of the Late Period, a man who lived about 600 b.c. 
Eighteen hundred years have brought a quiemde, a pious calm. 
Here we see no exuberant noble, no bellowing hippopotamus, no 
tumbling children. The walls are covered with rimal and magical 
texts. There are a few posed and dull picmres of the vizier frozen 
in hieratic attitude before the god of the dead. There are a few vi- 
gnettes to illustrate the texts with scenes of the underworld and the 
genii who live there. The life of this world is completely lacking; 
the foneral services and the world of the dead are the only con- 
cerns of this man. His monument for eternity concentrates on the 
next world instead of this life. His good consists in magic, rimal, 
and the favor of his god. 

That is our problem. At one pole there is an emphasis on life, 
on action, and on the material world; at the other pole, an emphasis 
on death, on repose, and on religion. Clearly our discussion must 
bridge the gap and must be historical in order to give the change 
from one stage to the other. We shall see two major periods of 
Egyptian thought, the aggressive and optimistic earlier times and 
the submissive and hopefol later times, with a long period of transi- 
tion between. It Was like a hurricane, with strong winds blowing 
to the east, then a dead center of uncertain balance, and then the 
winds blowing just as strongly to the west. The earlier winds to 
the east were radical and individualistic; the later winds to the 
west were conservative and communal. But, as we said before, it 
depends upon who analyzes the trends; another man has seen the 
earlier trend as a compliance to group forms and the later as an in- 
terest in personal well-being. Inevitably the discussion involves the 
religious, political, and social prejudices of the analyst. 




The emergence of Egypt into the light of history seems to be a 
very sudden phenomenon, symbolized in the abrupt appearance of 
stone architecture of highest technical perfection. Dr. Breasted 
once dramatized this brilliant flowering in these words: 

In the Cairo Museum you may stand in the presence of the massive granite 
sarcophagus which once contained the body of I^ufu-onekh, the architect who 

built the Great Pyramid of Gizeh Let us in imagination follow this early 

architect to die desert plateau behind the village of Gizeh. It was then bare desert 
surface, dotted only with the ruins of a few small tombs of remote ancestors. The 
oldest stone masonry construction at that dme had been erected by Khufii-onekh’s 
great-grandfather. Only three generations of architects in stone preceded him. 
.... There probably were not many stone masons, nor many men who under- 
stood the technique of building in scone as Khufu-onekh took his first walk on the 
bare Gizeh Plateau, and staked out the ground plan of the Great Pyramid. Con- 
ceive, then, the dauntless courage of the man who told his surveyors to lay out the 
square base 755 feet on each side! .... [He knew that it would] take nearly two 
and a half million blocks each weighing two and one-half tons to cover this square 

of thirteen acres with a mountain of masonry 481 feet high The Great 

Pyramid of Gizeh is thus a document in the history of the human mind. It clearly 
discloses man’s sense of sovereign power in his triumph over material forces. For 
himself and for his sovereign the pharaoh’s engineer was achieving the conquest 
of immortality by sheer command of material forces.^ 

This vivid picture illustrates the sudden surge of vigor and the 
zest for action and accomplishment which characterized the Old 
Kingdom of Egypt. From the same general period come some of 
Egypt’s highest intellectual achievements, such as that philosophy 
of the Memphite Theology which we discussed previously and the 
scientific attitude expressed in the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. 
This raises questions about the antecedents of these daring and 
forceful people. They hardly seem visible in the modest products 
of predynastic Egypt. And yet we caimot see that this is a reason 
for assuming that these achievements must therefore have been in- 
troduced by conquering invaders. That simply takes an unknown 
and thrusts it out into unknown realms. Sometimes the spirit of 
man soars in dizzy flight beyond the plodding pace which cultural 
evolution would see as normal, and there is good reason to believe 
diat this whole surge of power was quite local, enjoying only the 
stimulus of similar wonderful developments known from Mesopo- 
tamia. The reasons for this sudden spurt of power are not clear. 


It was a revolution, the abrupt flowering of a slow development 
under the influence of some stimulation which remains obscure. 
One may argue that the stability of state and society which per- 
mitted the beginnings of the Egyptian dynasties laid new demands 
on individual men. They were organized more elFectively through 
the specification of function. One man was charged to be an archi- 
tect, another to be a seal-cutter, another to be a record clerk. These 
functions had previously been avocations in a more simple society. 
Now they were important enough to be vocations and called forth 
the accumulation of abilities which had been latent but growing in 
the earlier periods. For centuries the Egyptians had been gathering 
slow strength within the Nile Valley until their day arrived, and 
they sprang upward with a suddenness which is miraculous to us. 
The Egyptians also had a sense of something very wonderful. They 
found themselves capable of great accomplishment. Material suc- 
cess was their first goal of the good life. 

We can feel the relish with which a noble of the Old Kingdom 
relates his advances in station: “(The King) made me Count and 

Overseer of Upper Egypt Never before had this office been 

conferred upon any servant, but I acted for him as Overseer of 
Upper Egypt to satisfaction. .... I filled an office which made my 
reputation in this Upper Egypt. Never before had the like been 
done in this Upper Egypt.”* The attimde was a frontier spirit of 
visible accomplishments, of the first success in a new line. This 
was a youthful and self-reliant arrogance, because there had been 
no setbacks. Man was enough in himself. The gods.^ Yes, they 
were off there somewhere, and they had made this good world, to 
be sure; but the world was good because man was himself master, 
without need for the constant support of the gods. 

Man’s world was not completely devoid of god, because the 
rules under which the world operated had been laid down by god, 
or the gods, and any man who transgressed those rules was ac- 
countable to god. Even in this early time, the word “god” is used 
in the singular in referring to his system, his desires for man, or his 
judging violations of the system. It is not quite clear in the Old 
Kingdom what god is involved in this singular use. Sometimes it is 
certainly the king, sometimes it is certainly the creator or supreme 
god, who had laid down the broad, general rules for the game of 



life. But sometimes there appear to be unification and personifica- 
tion of correct and efficient behavior summed up in the will of 
“the god” who is not as august or as distant as the king or the 
creator-god. If the hypothesis of consubstantiality is valid, this 
unification and universality of deity is a problem which we have 
already faced. It was not monotheism; it was monophysitism ap- 
plied to deity. 

Where the principles of proper behavior concern table etiquette 
or administrative procedure, it is likely to be “the kd' that has a 
governing interest as “the god.”^ As we explained in the previous 
chapter, the ka was the detached part of the human personality 
which protected and sustained the individual. As such it could well 
be the divine force within man which governed his proper and suc- 
cessful activity. The frequency of Old Kingdom names like “Re- 
is-my-^«” and “Ptah-is-my-^^j” suggests that, through the prin- 
ciples of consubstantiality and free substitution, the ka was thought 
to be a man’s god, sometimes godship in general, and sometimes a 
specific god, like a name saint or a patron saint. 

We are here referring to the Old Kingdom, when the gods of the 
pantheon were more remote from common man, although not 
necessarily from his intermediating ka. That situation changed 
later. In the latter part of the Empire an Egyptian expressed a 
close personal relation to a specifically named god, who was his 
protector and controller. That direct relation to a personal god 
may be visible before the Empire in the “town god,” the equiva- 
lent of the local saint. In the early Eighteenth Dynasty, for exam- 
ple, a wish for a noble runs: “Mayest thou spend eternity in glad- 
ness of heart and in the favor of the god who is in thee,”® for which 
a variant runs: “in the favor of thy town god.”® However, (a) these 
concepts are rarely clear cut or firmly identifiable; and {F) in cer- 
tain contexts “the god” is the king or a specific god of universal 
control, like the creator-god. 

The independent self-reliance of the Egyptian of the Pyramid 
Age is indicated by the physical decentralization of the tombs of 
the nobles of the period. At first the high officials were buried in 
close juxtaposition to the god-king whom they had served; 
through his certainty of eternity their hopes for continued existence 
would be realized. Very soon, however, they exhibited sufficient 





self-confidence to move away from the king and seek their own 
eternity in their own home districts. Within the general frame- 
work of divine rule they were independently successful in this life; 
they had assurance that this success was applicable to the future. 
Under their own momentum they could carry on into future life, 
join their ka’s over there, and become akh's, “effective beings,” for 
a vigorous eternal life. Their own accumulation of worldly success 
guaranteed, by legal contract and by precedent, a conquest over 
death. In that sense there was a decided democratic — -or, more pre- 
cisely, individualistic — trend throughout the Old Kingdom. 

“Individualism” is a better term than “democracy” for this 
spirit, because it applied chiefly to personal rule of conduct and not 
to political government. A sense of personal adequacy may lead 
to decentralization of government and thus bring a limited sense of 
democratic ambition. But we do not see in ancient Egypt that politi- 
cal democracy which chapter v will indicate for Mesopotamia. 
The dogma of the divinity of the Egyptian pharaoh was a cohesive 
force too strong to be fractured by individualistic forces. 

No servile dependency upon a god was necessary in this early 
period for the greatest goods of life: success in this world and con- 
tinued life in the next. Man was generally accountable to the king, 
to the creator-god, and to his own ka, but he was not humbly sup- 
pliant to a named god of the pantheon, and he was not formally re- 
sponsible to Osiris, the later ruler of the dead. His wealth and posi- 
tion in this life gave him confidence that he was fully effective now 
and later, and— as the lively tomb scenes show— he wanted a next 
world just as gay and exciting and successful as this world. 

We want to emphasize just as strongly as we can that the Egyp- 
tians of these times were a gay and lusty people. They relished life 
to the full, and they loved life too fully to surrender its hearty 
savor. That is why they denied the fact of death and carried over 
into the next world the same vigorous and merry life which they 
enjoyed here. 

We possess for this early period a book of etiquette for an offi- 
cial, “the utterances of beautiful speech .... as the instruction of 
the ignorant in knowledge and in the rules of good speech, which 
are of advantage to him who will listen and of disadvantage to him 
who may abuse them.”^ This contains the gospel of the “go-get- 



ter,” the bald rules for a young man who is on the make. It has 
been summarized as follows; 

The ideal picture is that of a correct man, who wisely avoids impulse and fits 
himself by word and deed into the administrative and social systems. An assured 
career as an official awaits him. No moral concepts like good and bad come into 
discussion here; rather the standard lies in the characteristics of the knowing man 
and the ignorant man, perhaps best given in the words “smart” and “stupid.” 
Smarmess can be learned. .... So rules are provided for a man’s career. If he 
pays attention, he will be smart; he will find the right way in all life’s situations 
through this smartness; and through this correct attitude he will bring his career 
to success.® 

This book contains precepts for getting on with superiors, 
equals, and inferiors. Thus one who comes into competition with 
a speaker who is better at argument is advised to “cut down on bad 
talk by not opposing him”; one who meets an equal is to show his 
superiority by silence so that the attending officials may be im- 
pressed; and an inferior opponent is to be treated with indulgent 
disregard, for thus “thou shalt smite him with the punishment of 
the (truly) great.”® He who sits at the table of a superior is urged 
to maintain a sedate countenance, to take only what he is offered, 
and to laugh only when his host laughs; thus the great one will be 
pleased and will accept whatever one may do.^® An official who 
must listen to the pleas of clients should listen patiently and with- 
out rancor, because “a petitioner wants attention to what he says 
(even) more than the accomplishing of that for which he came.”^^ 
It is seemly to found a household, to love and cherish a wife, be- 
cause “she is a field of advantage to her master”; and one must be 
careful to hold her from gaining mastery in the household.’^® There 
is a practical, materialistic wisdom in the injunction: “The wise 
man rises early in the morning to establish himself,”’^® or in the 
advice to be generous to one’s hangers-on, because no one can 
foresee the exigencies of the future, and it is wise to build up the 
insurance of a body of grateful supporters.^^ 

It would be unfair to leave the impression that the entire text is 
opportunistic and materialistic. There is one passage which urges 
on the official that honesty is the best policy, but even this arises 
out of experience rather than principle. “If thou art a leader who 
directs the affairs of a multitude, seek for thyself every benevolent 
opportunity until thy conduct shall be without fault. Justice is of 


advantage, and its utility lasts. It has not been disturbed since the 
time of its maker, whereas there is punishment for him who passes 

by its laws It is (true that) evil may gain wealth, but the 

(real) strength of justice is that it lasts, for a man can say: ‘It was 
the property of my father (before me) Here lay the values of 
that age: a transmittable property and the experience that a man 
“got on” in the world if he was smart enough to follow certain 
common-sense principles. A success visible to all men was the 
great good. These were the supreme values of the Old Kingdom, 
and they continued in value throughout Egyptian history. 

It was easy to worship success as long as success conferred its 
benefits on all men, as long as well-tended pyramids and tombs 
were the visible symbols of the lasting power of worldly success. 
But that happy state did not last. The Old Kingdom of Egypt col- 
lapsed into turmoil heels over head. The old values in position and 
property were swept away in an anarchy of force and seizure. The 
Egyptians ascribed their woes in part to a dissolution of their own 
character, but also to the violent presence of Asiatics in the Egyp- 
tian Delta. However, it is doubtful whether the Asiatics came in as 
an invading and suppressing horde; it is much more likely that an 
inner breakdown of rule in Egypt permitted small groups of Asi- 
atics to come in and settle but that these insignificant penetra- 
tions were result rather than cause of the breakdown. 

The real source of the collapse was a progressive decentraliza- 
tion. Rulers other than the dynastic pharaohs felt their individual 
capacity for independence and set up competitive government until 
the strain fractured Egypt into a lot of warring factions. This was 
part of the individualistic, self-seeking trend which had been gain- 
ing momentum throughout the Old Kingdom. Now, with the sin- 
gle, central control dissipated, there was anarchy in the competing 
grabs for power, which went right down to the lowest strata of so- 
ciety. Egypt had been moving away from autarchy in the direction 
of separatism based on individual capacity to act, but the nation 
was unprepared to take advantage of the breakdown of autarchy 
by the immediate institution of a system of rule on a broader basis. 
In the confusion there was no rule. 

We have many expressions of the bewilderment of the Egyptian 
at the overturn of his old world. Instead of the prized stability 



and security, the land whirled around dizzily like a potter’s wheel. 
The former rich and powerful were now in rags and hunger, 
whereas the former poor had property and power. We of the pres- 
ent day read with a wry amusement the protests that there was a 
thoroughgoing cheapening of the high court of justice and a disre- 
gard for the statutes of the law, that poor men were now able to 
wear fine linen, that servant girls were insolent to their mistresses, 
and that the laundryman arbitrarily refused to carry his bundle. 
The visible continuity of life through the care and preservation of 
the tombs of the great was abruptly fracmred; tombs were plun- 
dered, including the pyramids of the pharaohs, and the treasured 
dead lay exposed upon the desert plateau. The crisp frontier lines 
which had given geometric order to Egypt were erased; the red 
desert had pushed its way into the fertile black soil, the provincial 
states were “hacked to pieces,” and foreigners from abroad had 
entered Egypt. When the provinces refused to pay taxes, the cen- 
tral control of agriculture broke down, and no one would plow 
even when the Nile was in beneficial flood. The old profitable com- 
merce with Phoenicia and Nubia had disappeared, so that the ap- 
pearance of a few miserable traders from die desert offering herbs 
and birds was now a remarkable phenomenon.^® 

Egypt may have been moving steadily toward individualism and 
decentralized power, but it had still had the single keystone of the 
kingship. When this had been removed, the whole arch had fallen. 
“Behold, it has come to a point where the land is robbed of the 

kingship by a few irresponsible men Behold, the secret of 

the land, unknowable in its extent, has been exposed, and the (roy- 
al) residence has been overthrown within an hour.”^'^ We have 
seen in the earlier wisdom literature that the norm for the good life 
had been the successful official. Now the officials were in hunger 
and want. “Behold, no office at all is in its (proper) place, like a 
stampeded herd without its herdsman.”^® “Changes have taken 
place, so that it is no (longer) like last year, but one year is more 
burdensome than another.”^® The old values of a successful in- 
dividual career, which showed to the world property, administra- 
tive position, and a tomb provisioned unto eternity had been swept 
away. What values could be found to replace them? 

In the upset, some found only the negative answers of despair or 


skepticism. Some turned to suicide, and we read that the croco- 
diles of the river were sated because men went to them of their 
own accord.^® One of the finest documents of Egyptian literature 
records the debate of a would-be suicide with his owm ba, or soul. 
Life was too much for him, and he proposed to seek his death by 
fire. It was symptomatic of the times that the soul, which should 
have exhibited the consistent and directing attitude toward death, 
was the wavering member to the debate and could find no satis- 
factory answer to the man’s melancholy. It first was inclined to 
accompany him no matter what his end might be; then it shifted 
and tried to hold him back from violence. Still it had no construc- 
tive arguments for realizing a good life on this earth and could only 
urge the man to forget his cares and seek sensual enjoyment. 
Finally, after the man had contrasted the miseries of this life with 
the sober pleasures of the next world, the soul agreed to make a 
home with him no matter what his fate might be. There was no 
answer except that this world was so bad that the next must be a 

This document carries a philosophy of pessimism worth our 
study. The man presented his argument to his soul in four poems of 
uniform tristichs contrasting life with the release of death. The 
first poem urged that the man’s name would be in bad odor if he 
followed the advice of his soul to give himself up to pleasure. He 
had his own standards still, and he would not permit his good name 
to be damaged. 

Behold, my name will reek through thee 
More than the stench of fishermen, 

More than the stagnant swamps where they have fished. 

Behold, my name will reek through thee 
More than the stench of bird-droppings, 

On summer days when the sky is hot,^^ 

In six more stanzas the man presented the evil odor of his repo- 
tation if he followed the cowardly advice of his soul. Then in a 
second poem he turned to a lament over the breakdown of standards 
in the society of his day. Three of the stanzas in this poem run as 

To whom can I speak today? 

(One’s) fellows are evil; 

The friends of today do not love. 



(To whom can ! speak today?) 

The gentle man has perished, 

But the violent man has access to everybody. 

To whom can I speak today? 

No one remembers (the lessons of) the past; 

No one at this time does (good in return) for doing 

(good) .22 

From these evils of life the man turned to contemplate death as a 
blessed release. 

Death (stands) before me today 
(Like) the recovery of a sick man, 

Like going out-doors (again) after being confined. 

Death (stands) before me today 
Like the fragrance of myrrh, 

Like sitting under a shade on a breezy day. 

Death (stands) before me today 
As a man longs to see his house, 

After he has spent many years held in captivity,^® 

Finally, the man urged the high privileges of the dead, who had 
the power to oppose evil and who had free access to the gods. 

Nay, but he who is yonder 
Shall be a living god, 

Inflicting punishment upon the doer of evil. 

Nay, but he who is yonder 
Shall be a man of wisdom, 

Not stopped from appealing to Re when he speaks.2^ 

This man was ahead of his day in rejecting the active values of 
this life in favor of the passive values of fumre blessedness. As we 
shall see, such submissiveness characterized a period a thousand 
years later. This was a tentative move in the pessimism of the 
period — that one should seek death as a release instead of empha- 
sizing the continuance of the life as known here. 

In this debate the man’s soul at one point urged upon him the futil- 
ity of taking life seriously and cried out: “Pursue a holiday (mood) 
and forget care!”^® This dieme of nonmoral hedonism occurs again 
in another text of the period, where the argument is: The old 
standards of property and position have broken down; we have no 
certainty about future happiness, so let us grasp what happiness we 


can in this world. The past shows only that this life is brief and 
transitory — ^but transitory to an unknowable future. 

“Generations pass away and others go on since the time of the 
ancestors. .... They that build buildings, their places are no 
more. What has been done with them? 

“I have heard the words of (the past sages) Imhotep and Harde- 
def, with whose sayings men speak so much — (but) what are their 
places (now)? Their walls are crumbled, their places are non- 
existent, as if they had never been. 

“No one returns from (over) there, so that he might tell us their 
disposition, that he might tell us how they are, that he might still 

our hearts until we (too) shall go to the place where they have 



Since that wisdom which was so highly prized in the earlier age 
had not guaranteed for the wise a visible survival in well-kept 
tombs, and since it was impossible to tell how the dead fared in 
the other world, what was left for us here? Nothing, except to 
snatch at the sensual pleasures of the day. 

“Make holiday and weary not therein! Behold, it is not given 
to a man to take his property with him. Behold, no one who goes 
(over there) can come back again!”^'^ 

Thus the first two reactions to the defeat of a successful and 
optimisdc world were despair and cynicism. But they were not 
the only reactions. Egypt had still a spiritual and mental vigor 
which refused to deny the essential worth of individual man. He 
was still an object of value to himself. If his old standards of value 
in physical and social success had proved to be of ephemeral nature, 
he began to grope for other standards which might have a more last- 
ing namre. Dimly and uncertainly he became aware of the great 
truth that the things which are seen are temporal but that the tWngs 
which are unseen may be of the very smff of eternity. And eternal 
life was still his great goal. 

Now the words which we have just used and the words which 
we are going to use prejudice the discussion in terms of modem 
ethical judgments. That is deliberate. We consider the Egyptian 
Middle Kingdom to have reached moral heights in its search for 
the good life. This is a personal prejudice, in which we follow Pro- 
fessor Breasted, although our own analysis of the factors differs 



slightly from his. A counterview has been urged by others. They 
point out that the Egyptians of the earliest fully visible period, the 
Old Kingdom, reached heights which were never surpassed later — 
in technical ability (as in the Great Pyramid and in sculpture), in 
science (as in a remarkable surgical papyrus and in the instimtion 
of a calendar), and in philosophy (as in the Memphite Theology). 

This view would deny any assumption of progress beyond those 
points. Indeed, it would protest the claim of progress at all and 
would insist that we see change only and that this change is within 
the limits of a culture very largely static from the beginnings. The 
more it changes, the more it exhibits itself to be the same. There is I 

undoubted truth to this. The materialism which we stressed as 
characterizing the Old Kingdom was still an important factor in this 
new period. The social-moral advances which we shall claim for 
this new period were already indicated in the Old Kingdom (in- 
creasing democratization, concept of justice, etc.). This view 
would also protest the imposing of our consciously self-righteous 
standards of moral judgment upon the ancient Egyptians. Have we ; 

the right to translate ma'^at as “justice,” “truth,” or “righteous- j 

ness,” instead of “order,” “regularity,” or “conformity”.? Have 
we the right to hail increasing democracy of viewpoint in ancient ; 

Egypt as “an advance,” which was “good”.? ■ 

We insist that one has the right to make moral judgments and to i 

talk in terms of progress or decline. These are subjective matters, 
not strictly scientific. But any generation has the right — ^nay, even | 

the duty- — of presenting the evidence objectively and then of giving 
a subjective valuation to the evidence. TVfe know that objectivity | 

cannot be completely divorced from subjectivity, but a scholar can i 

attempt to show just what the evidence is and just where his per- I 

sonal criticism comes in. In the period which we are going to ex- I 

amine now, we would agree that a hard practical materialism still 
continued strong, that the anti-ethical force of magic played a large i 

role, and that the moral impulses which we shall stress had been ; 

present earlier and continued later. But we are satisfied that there I 

were changes of emphasis in this period and that these shifts of I 

emphasis look like advances to a modem American. | 

The two great changes which we can see are a decline in the 
emphasis on position and material property as being the good of 





this life, with a corresponding shift of emphasis to proper social ac- 
tion as being the good, and a continuation of the individualistic 
trend of the Old Kingdom to the point where ail good things were 
potentially open to all men. These two trends are ultimately the 
same: if the good in life is within the quest of any man, rich or 
poor, then power and wealth are not ultimates, but right relations 
to other men are strongly recommended. 

Three quotations will give us the new emphases. A struggle of 
the previous period had been to build and maintain a tomb, an im- 
posing funerary monument lasting to eternity. The Middle King- 
dom continued the physical establishment but introduced a new 
note: “Do not be evil, (for) kindliness is good. Make thy monu- 
ment to be lasting through the love of thee. .... (Then) the god 
will be praised by way of rewarding (thee).”^® Here the monu- 
ment which lasted came through other men’s grateful reaction to 
benevolence. A second passage gives clearly the statement that the 
god delighted more in good character than in elaborate offerings; 
the poor man could thus have as good a title to god’s interest as 
the rich. “More acceptable is the character of a man just of heart 
than the ox of the evildoer.”®® 

The most remarkable passage of the period is one which occurs 
only here and — as far as we know — was not repeated later. It 
stands isolated, and yet it was not foreign to the highest aspiration 
of the times; it is a reason for prizing the spirit of this age beyond 
those which preceded or followed. It stated simply that all men 
were created equal in opportunity. In these words the supreme 
god gave the purposes of creation. 

I relate to you the four good deeds which my own heart 
did for me . . . . in order to silence evil. I did four 
good deeds within the portal of the horizon. 

I made the four winds that every man might breathe 
thereof like his fellow in his time. That is (the first) 
of the deeds. 

I made the great floodwaters that the poor man might 
have rights in them like the great man. That is (the 
second) of the deeds . 



I made every man like his fellow. I did not command 
that they might do evil, (but) it was their hearts that 
violated what I had said. That is (the third) of the 

I made that their hearts should cease from forgetting the 
west, in order that divine offerings might be made to 
the gods of the provinces. That is (the fourth) of the 

The first two passages of this text state that wind and water are 
equally available to all men of any degree. In a land where pros- 
perity depended upon securing a proper share in the inundation 
waters and where water control must have been a powerful factor 
in setting one man in domination over another, an assurance of 
equal access to water meant basic equality of opportunity. The 
statement, “I made every man like his fellow,” that is, “all men 
are created equal,” was coupled with the god’s insistence that he 
had not intended that they do evil, bur that their own hearts had 
devised wrong. This juxtaposition of equality and wrongdoing 
says that social inequality is no part of god’s plan, but man must 
bear that responsibility alone. This is a clear assertion that the 
ideal society would be fully equal! tarian. Certainly, ancient Egypt 
never came near that ideal, except as we modems do in the pious 
postponement of full equality to the future life. But it was still a 
valid sublimation of the highest aspirations of the time. Wistfully 
it says: All men should be equal; the creator-god did not make 
them different. 

The final good deed of the supreme god was to call men’s atten- 
tion to the west, the region of eternal life, and to urge upon them 
pious service of their local gods in order to attain the west. These 
were important changes of this period, the democratization of the 
next world and closer attachment to the gods. All men might now 
enjoy eternity in the same terms as had the king alone in the previ- 
ous period. We do not know just what kind of continued existence 
the ordinary man of the Old Kingdom had been conceded. He was 
to continue with his ka, and he was to become an akh, an “effective” 
personality. The pharaoh of the Old Kingdom, however, was to 
beome a god in the realm of the gods. Now that future of the phar- 


aoh was open also to commoners. They were to become gods as he 
had become a god. Whereas only the dead king had become Osiris 
in the earlier period, now every deceased Egyptian became the 
god Osiris. Further, his becoming an Osiris and attaining eternal 
blessedness was put in relation to an afterlife judgment in which 
his character was assessed by a tribunal of gods. 

Pictorially, this judgment of character was already a weighing 
of justice. In the future this was to become a judgment before 
Osiris as the god of the dead, with the man’s heart placed in the 
scales against the symbol for justice. Those elements were already 
present in the Middle Kingdom, Osiris as god of the dead and a 
judgment of the deceased in terms of justice, but they were not yet 
put together into a single consistent scene. Instead there was still 
a carry-over of the older order in which the supreme god, the sun- 
god, was the judge. There was democratization of the next world 
and Osirianization, but the entry to the eternal life was not wholly 
within the control of Osiris. We have reference to “that balance of 
Re, in which he weighs justice”;®^ and the deceased was assured 
that “thy fault will be expelled and thy guilt will be wiped out by 
the weighings of the scales on the day of reckoning characters, and 
it will be permitted that thou join with those who are in the (sun)- 
barque,”®^ and that “there is not a god who will contest a case with 
thee, and there is not a goddess who will contest a case with thee, 
on the day of reckoning characters. It was a tribunal of the gods, 
presumably under the presidency of the supreme god, to whom 
the deceased must make his report. “He shall reach the council 
of the gods, the place where the gods are, his ka being with him and 
his offerings being in front of him, and his voice shall be justified 
in the reckoning up of the surplus: though he may tell his faults, 
they will be expelled for him by all that he may say.”®^ All this 
shows that there was a judging of the dead in terms of weighing the 
excess or deficiency of his good against his bad and that a favor- 
able outcome of the weighing was a prerequisite to eternal blessed- 
ness. This weighing was a calculation of mifat^ justice. 

TVfe have met mc^at before. Basically, it is probably a physical 
term, “levehess, evenness, straighmess, correctness,” in a sense of 
regularity or order. From that it can be used in the metaphorical 
senses of “uprightness, righteousness, truth, justice.” There was a 



real emphasis on this mifat in the Middle Kingdom in the sense of 
social justice, righteous dealing with one’s fellow-men. That was 
the main theme of the story of the eloquent peasant, which comes 
from this period. Throughout his pleadings the peasant demanded 
from the high official simple justice as a moral right. Just dealing 
had its minimum in the conscientious carrying-out of responsibil- 
ities. “Cheating diminishes justice, (but) filling (to) good (meas- 
ure) — ^neiffier too low nor overflowing — ^is justice.”®^ But, as we 
saw in the preceding chapter, justice was not simply legal com- 
merce but was the seeking-out of good in relation to need: ferrying 
across the river the poor man who could not pay and doing good in 
advance of any known return. And a theme of the Middle Kingdom 
was social responsibility; the king was a herdsman who cherished 
his herds; the official had a positive duty toward the widow and the 
orphan; in short, every man had rights which imposed responsibil- 
ities upon other men. Even the sculptures of the time sought to 
bring out this emphasis on conscientious character and moved from 
a delineation of majesty and force to a portrayal of concern for ob- 
ligations. Such careworn portraits of the pharaohs of the Middle 
Kingdom are well known. 

All this has been eloquently urged by Breasted, and we need not 
document it in further detail. If one seeks to state his argument dif- 
ferently, it would simply be in a difference of definition of “con- 
science” or of “character” and a failure to give the story the simple 
and straightforward emphasis which he achieves. In the previous 
period there had been a demand for justice in this world and for the 
next,®® and there had certainly been character in the forceful per- 
sonalities who had built a great state. But here in the Middle King- 
dom greater emphasis in some lines and lesser emphasis in others 
permitted an age of real social conscientiousness, in which the psy- 
chological and moral basis was the belief that every man is the care- 
worthy creation of the god. 

Up to this time, the Middle Kingdom, the trend in ancient Egypt 
had been centrifugal and atomistic: individual man had been the 
valued unit. First his individual abilities had been marked out for 
value, then his individual rights had been recognized. Egypt had 
been moving somewhat blindly along the road from theocratic 
autarchy toward democracy of a kind. The spirit was still an en- 


GGuragement to fill this life with activity, and each man was given 
an opportunity to realize the bustling, practical, important life 
here. Consequently, they continued to love this life and defy death. 
The definition of success may have shifted slightly, but it was still 
true that a successful life carried over and repeated itself happily 
in the next world. Consequently, the tombs, which were the 
bridges between two existences, continued to stress the abundance 
of life. The scenes of hunting, shipbuilding, and merrymaking 
were as vigorous as ever. Only an increased attention to scenes of 
the burial and a few representations of religious feasts suggest to 
us a new sobriety. It was still the case that the greatest good lay in 
the good life here and not an escape from this life to a different fu- 
ture life or a resigned submission to the gods. Individual man still 
enjoyed himself. 


We come now to the cause of the great transition in the Egyp- 
tian ethos. We come to the second political revolution, the Second 
Intermediate Period, lying between the Middle Kingdom and the 
Empire, between the eighteenth and sixteenth centuries b.c. Again 
the central government broke down; again there was competition 
for the rule by a number of small princelings. Probably a weaken- 
ing of personal force and character in the central government un- 
leashed the self-seeking individualism of local princes. But the 
great difference this time was the forceful and conquering incur- 
sion of foreigners. Asiatic princes, whom we call the Hyksos, 
established themselves in armed camps within Egypt and dominat- 
ed the land with a firmness which was repressive to the still flow- 
ering Egyptian spirit. For the first time Egypt as a whole suffered 
a setback in that philosophy which said: We are the center and sum- 
mit of the world; we are free to permit expansion of spirit to the 
individuals of our community. Now, for the first time, that com- 
munity was aware of a serious threat from the outside world. Now, 
for the first time, that community had to draw together into a unity 
in order to meet and avert that threat. 

Egypt did unite and throw out the “vagabonds,” who had dared 
to rule the land “in ignorance of Re.”®’' But the threat was not met 
by driving them out of Egypt; it was necessary to pursue them into 
Asia and to keep on pounding them so that they might never again 



threaten the land of the Nile. There was built up a psychosis for 
security, a neuropathic awareness of danger similar to that which 
has characterized Europe in modem times. That common sentiment 
for security welded the Egyptians into a self-conscious nation. It 
has been pointed out that only in this period of liberation do the 
Egyptians speak of their troops as “our army,” instead of crediting 
the forces to the king.®* There was a patriotic fervor which put the 
country’s interests before the interests of the individual. 

Such a unified spirit was bom of the sense of common peril. The 
common desire for security need not have survived after the Egyp- 
tian Empire extended the military frontier of Egj^pt well into Asia 
and thus removed the peril from the immediate frontier. That 
should have given the external security which would relieve the 
need for communal solidarity. However, it was a restless age, and 
there were perils on the distant horizon which could be invoked 
to hold the community together, since unity was to the advantage 
of certain central powers. When the threat of the Hyksos had sub- 
sided, the threat of the Hittites appeared and endangered the Asi- 
atic Empire of Egypt. Thereafter came the Sea Peoples, the Liby- 
ans, and the Assyrians. A fear psychosis, once engendered, re- 
mained present. And there were forces in Egypt which kept alive 
this fear psychosis in order to maintain the unified purpose of 

The course of empire is justified in terms of a cmsade, the ac- 
ceptance of a “manifest destiny” to extend one culture in domina- 
tion over another. Whether empire is basically economic or politi- 
cal, it must have a religious, spiriraal, and intellectual vindication. 
In Egypt that sanction came through the god-king who stood for 
the state, and it came through the other national gods who partici- 
pated in the removal of a threat to Egypt by supporting the exten- 
sion of the frontiers of the land. The national gods commissioned 
the pharaoh to march forth and widen the land; indeed, they 
marched with him at the head of the divisions of his array. The ex- 
tension of the nation was their own extension. 

In how far the gods invested in Egyptian victory in a strictly 
economic sense is uncertain. We do not know whether the temples 
acted as bankers to finance foreign conquest and empire. They 
probably did so when they became wealthy and had extensive as- 


sets, because empire constantly increased their wealth. At any 
rate, they did invest in Egyptian victory in a spiritual-propa- 
gandistic sense, in giving a divine blessing and a divine guaranty 
to empire. For this they received an economic return. This is rather 
explicitly stated in the monuments; the pharaoh erected buildings, 
established and endowed feasts, and presented land and serfs to the 
god who had given the victory. The previously modest temples in 
Egypt grew in physical size, in personnel, in land, and in total 
property, until they became the dominating factor in Egyptian 
political, social, and economic life. It has been estimated that, 
after the Empire had had three hundred years of active life, the 
Egyptian temples owned one out of every five inhabitants of the na- 
tion and owned almost one-third of the cultivable land.®® Naturally 
the temples were interested in perpetuating and tightening a sys- 
tem which was so greatly to their advantage. In order to secure 
their advantage, they had to insist on the group solidarity of the 
people for the national interest which had made the temples rich 
and strong. Ultimately they swallowed up not only the people but 
also the pharaoh. 

Now look at the implications of this history in terms of the in- 
dividual human. The previous tendency from the Old Kingdom up 
to the Empire had been centrifugal, atomistic, individualistic: the 
good life was to be found in the fullest expression of each person. 
Now the tendency was centripetal, nationalistic, communal: the 
good life was to be found in the group interest, and the individual 
was called upon to conform to the asserted needs of the group. Any 
wavering and tentative approach to an individualistic expression 
was canceled out; any sense that the Egyptian community was a 
thing of value in itself was a cardinal doctrine. 

A revolution of this spiritual and intellectual kind is not estab- 
lished by a congress which draws up a manifesto of change; it takes 
place so gradually as to be perceptible only over the cenmries. 
Even a rebellion against the change, such as characterized the 
Amama Revolution, was perhaps as much an unsystematized pro- 
test against the power mechanics of the change as a protest against 
the principles of the change. For centuries the Egyptian texts went 
on reiterating the older formulas, while the Egyptian tombs re- 
peated the older lusty enjoyment of the manifold opportunities of 



this life. It is just as if we Americans should turn gradually to a 
socialistic government and a rationalistic ethics while repeating 
our slogans of democracy and Calvinistic Protestantism; we should 
be unaware of the change for a long time after it had been effective. 

Thus there were centuries of empire before the force of the 
change became visible in Egyptian literature and art. Only grad- 
ually were the old stereotypes replaced by new formulas. When 
the revolution was complete, we find that the goals of life had 
shifted from a vigorous, individualistic existence in this world, 
which would be rewarded by repetition in the next world, to a 
conforming and formalistic life in this world. As far as the individ- 
ual Egyptian was concerned, his horizon of opportunity had be- 
come circumscribed; he was advised to submit because he was pre- 
sented with an escape from this world’s limitations by a promise of 
better things in the next world. Those better things were now less 
of his own agency and more the gift of the gods. There was thus 
not only a shift from the individual to the group but also a shift 
from an enjoyment of this world to the promise of the next world. 
That will explain the contrast between those two tombs which we 
outlined previously in this chapter, where the earlier monument 
presented gay and vigorous depictions of field, shop, and market 
place, whereas the later monument concentrated on the ritual ap- 
proach to afterlife. 

Let us try to document this thesis from the literature and particu- 
larly from the wisdom literamre. One’s first impression is that the 
late instructions in correct behavior are just like the earlier instruc- 
tions; in much the same Polonius language they tell the young offi- 
cial how to get on in his profession. Effective practical etiquette — 
at table, in the street, or in the law court— -is the continuing theme. 
But gradually one is aware of differences. The reasons given for 
the injunctions have changed. Back in the older days a man had 
been advised to take good care of his wife, because “she is a field 
of advantage to her master.” Now the man was told to remember 
the patience and devotion of his own mother and to treat his wife 
in accordance with his loving gratitude to his mother.^® Whereas 
the older texts had enjoined patience and impartiality upon the 
official when dealing with poor clients, now he was to take posi- 
tive action on behalf of the poor. “If thou findest a large debt 
against a poor man, make it into three parts, throw out two, and 


let one remain.” Why should one take such an uneconomical ac- 
tion? The answer is that he cannot live with his own conscience 
unless he does. “Thou wilt find it like the ways of life. Thou wilt 
lie down and sleep (soundly). In the morning thou wilt find it 
(again) like good news. It is better to be praised as one whom 
people love than (to have) riches in the storehouse. Better is bread 
when the heart is happy than riches under (the weight of) trou- 
bles. This was a change from the older texts; position and 
property were not so important now as the sense of right relations 
with other men. A man belonged to society, not to himself alone. 

The key word for the developed spirit of this period was “si- 
lence,” which we may render also widi “calm, passivity, tranquil- 
lity, submission, humility, meekness.” This “silence” is linked 
with weakness or poverty in such contexts as “Thou art Amon, 
the lord of the silent, who comes at the voice of the poor,”'^^ and 
“Amon, the protector of the silent, the rescuer of the poor.”^® Be- 
cause of that equation these characteristic expressions of humility 
have been designated as a religion of the poor Itis true that meek- 
ness has always been a virtue recommended to the dispossessed, 
but our essential point is that every Egyptian of this period was 
dispossessed in terms of a right to self-expression; he had been cut 
off from the encouragement to voluntary self-development and 
was now constrained to a deterministic submission to the needs of 
the group. In proof of this assertion that the spirit of humility was 
not confined to the poverty-stricken, we would point out that a 
very high-placed official was at pains to describe himself as “truly 
silent”^^ and that even the high priest of Amon might insist that 
he was “properly and truly silent.”^® In the spirit of the times the 
active and successful official found it necessary to emphasize his 
conformance to the national pattern of obedience. 

As the objectionable contrast to the silent man, the texts of- 
fered the “heated” or “passionate” man, who was “loud of voice.” 
In terms reminiscent of the First Psalm, the contrast is drawn (also 
Jer. 17:5-8): 

As for the passionate man in die temple, he is like a tree growing in the open. 
Suddenly (comes) its loss of foliage, and its end is reached in the ship-yards; (or) 
it is floated far from its place, and a flame is its burial-shroud. 



(But) the truly silent man holds himself apart. He is like a tree growing in a 
garden. It flourishes; it doubles its fruit; it (stands) before its lord. Its fruit is 
sweet; its shade is pleasant; and its end is reached in the garden.'*^ 

Now silence had often been enjoined in the earlier period, but 
it had been a topical silence: do not speak or resist unless you are 
smart enough.^® Indeed, it had been emphasized that eloquence 
might be found in the lowest grades of society and that it should be 
encouraged there when found.^® Now, in this changed spirit, the 
continuing injunction was silence alone. In dealings with superiors 
or in the government offices, it was submissive silence which 
would give you ultimate success.®” This was related to the designs 
of the god, “who loves the silent man more than him who is loud 
of voice, and whose protection would confound one’s oppo- 
nents.®^ “The dwelling of god, its abomination is clamor. Pray thou 
with a loving heart, all words of which are hidden. Then he will 
supply all thy needs; he will hear what thou sayest and will accept 
thy offering.”®® The well of wisdom is not free for all who wish 
to drink therefrom; “it is sealed to him who can discover his 
mouth, (but) it is open to him who is silent.”®^ 

The new deterministic philosophy was rather definitely stated 
in terms of the will of god, placed over against man’s helplessness, 
“The god is (always) in his success, (whereas) man is (always) 
in his failure.” This statement of man’s essential need of god was 
continued in an early expression of Homo proposuit sed Deus dis- 
ponit: “One thing are the words which men say, (but) another 
thing is what the god does.”®® Gone was the earlier reliance upon 
man himself within the general pattern of the world order; now he 
specifically and always failed unless he conformed to that which 
the god directed. 

Thus this period came to have a strong sense of fate or external 
determining force. One may say that this had not been entirely ab- 
sent in earlier times in some magical force or other. The ka had 
been a semidetached part of personality which had affected a man’s 
career. But now the god Fate and the goddess Fortune stood out- 
side the personality in remote but firm control. One could not pur- 
sue one’s own interest without regard to these regulators on be- 
half of the gods. “Cast not thy heart in pursuit of riches, (for) 


there is no ignoring Fate and Fortune. Place not thy heart upon ex- 
ternals, (for) every man belongs to his (appointed) hour.”®® Man 
was charged not to search too deeply into the affairs of the gods, 
because the deities of destiny were his controlling limitation. “Do 
not (try to) find for thyself the powers of the god himself, (as if) 
there were no Fate and Fortune.”®^ 

It is possible to emphasize the role of fate exclusively in this 
period. There was still some voluntarism within the determined 
scheme of things. The young man was warned against a fatalism 
which prevents his searching for wisdom: “Beware lest thou say; 
‘Every man is according to his (own) nature. Ignorant and wise 
are of one piece (only) . Fate and Fortune are carved on the nature 
(of a man) in the writings of the god himself. Every man passes his 
lifetime in an hour.’ (Nay) , teaching is good, and there is no weary- 
ing in it, and a son should answer with the utterances of his father. 
I cause thee to know what is right in thy (own) heart, so that thou 
do what is correct in thy sight.”®® 

If success lay only with god and man was doomed to failure, we 
should expect to find expressions of the sense of personal short- 
coming, ultimately stated as a consciousness of sin. Such expres- 
sions do appear at this time. To be sure, the nature of sin is not al- 
ways clear, and it may involve only riraal irregularity rather than 
ethical wrongdoing. But we can insist upon an acknowledgment of 
error when a man says: “Though the servant is normally (dis- 
posed) to do evil, yet the Lord is normally (disposed) to be merci- 
ful.”®® In another case it was the specific crime of perjury that 
led a man to say of his god: “He caused men and gods to look on 
me as if I were a man that does abominations against his Lord. 
Righteous was Ptah, Lord of Truth, toward me, when he disci- 
plined me.”®® 

What is left for men when they are denied voluntary self-ex- 
pression and are put into a rigid framework of conformance? Well, 
there was an escape from the limitations of this world in the prom- 
ise of the next world, and it is possible to see an intensification of 
the desire for escape in Egypt, leading ultimately to monasticism 
and apocalyptic promise. But the promise of something distant is 
an uncertain thing in the day-by-day activity of a person; he wants 
something warmer right now. Thus the sense of personal wrongdo- 



ing called forth its antidote in a sense of divine nearness and mercy. 
The individual was swallowed up in a great impersonal system and 
felt lost. Very well, there was a god who was interested in him, 
who punished his transgressions, and who then healed him with 
mercy. Again and again the texts call upon a god or goddess to 
come in compassion to suffering man. “I cried out to my Mistress; 
(then) I found that she came to me with sweet airs. She showed 
mercy to me, (after) she had made me behold her hand. She turned 
about again to me in mercy; she caused me to forget the sickness 
that had been [upon] me. Yea, the Peak of the West is merciful if 
one cries out to her.”®^ 

Thus, in compensation for the loss of individual voluntarism and 
the imposition of group determinism, there emerged a warmer per- 
sonal relation between an Egyptian and his own god, and the period 
of the late Empire has been characterized by Breasted as the “age 
of personal piety.” There was love and trust on the part of the wor- 
shiper; there was justice and mercy on the part of the god. In the 
revolution of Egyptian feeling, the good life lay no longer in culti- 
vation of personality but in the surrender of personality to some 
greater force, with the recompense for surrender a security offered 
by that greater force. 

It would take too long to argue the full development of this 
changed psychology of a people. The substitution of god’s mercy 
for the encouragement of the individual spirit did not prove satis- 
factory. The joy went out of life. The Egyptian was called upon to 
rest content in humility and faith. Humility he did show. But faith 
is “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” 
He might and did still hope for better things in the world to come, 
but his conviction of things not seen was limited by the experience 
of things seen. He saw that his own personal god, who showed 
him mercy in his weakness, was also little and weak like himself. 
He saw that the great gods of Egypt, the national gods, were rich, 
distant, powerful, and demanding. The priesthood of Egypt was 
still growing in power and control and demanded blind conform- 
ance to the system that gave the temples power and control. In- 
dividual man was caught in a strait jacket of rites and obligations, 
and his only comfort lay in soothing words and distant promises. 


He turned from a lusty appreciation of this life to means of escape 
from this life. 

In the desire for escape from the present, the Egyptian turned 
not only to the afterworld fumre but also to the happy past. As we 
saw in chapter i, the Egyptians had always had a strong sense of 
the achievement, power, and dignity of earlier times. Constantly 
they invoked the good models of their past, whether the mytho- 
logical times of the rule of the gods or dhe hazily historical times 
of the earliest kings. 

Earlier in this chapter we quoted an old bit of agnosticism, in 
which the writer said in effect: The former sages Imhotep and 
Hardedef are much quoted, but they were unable to protect 
their tombs or their physical property; what did their wisdom 
avail them, after all? In later times the expression about these an- 
cestors was different: Their wisdom did avail them, for they had 
left a memorial worthy of reverence. “As for those learned scribes 
since the times which came after the gods .... their names have 
come to be lasting forever, although they (themselves) have gone. 
.... They did not make for themselves pyramids of metal, with 
tombstones of iron. They were not able to leave heirs in children. 
.... But they made heirs for themselves in writings and in the 

wisdom literamre which they left Books of wisdom were 

their pyramids, and the pen was their child Is tliere (anyone) 

here like Hardedef? Is Aere another like Imhotep? .... They are 
gone and forgotten, but their names through (their ) writings cause 
tfiem to be remembered 

This strong sense of a rich and proud past comforted an age 
which felt uncertainty in its present. Ultimately this nostalgia for 
earlier times grew into archaism, with a rather blind and ignorant 
copying of the forms of a distant past. Personal piety was not able 
to make the concept of a single fatherly god adequate. The search 
for the spirimal support of religion went instead over to a recourse 
to oracles and over to strict ritualistic observance, until religion be- 
came as empty as Herodotus saw it. Within the coniinement of a 
system of national conformance even the god-king became a mere 
puppet of the laws, as Diodorus saw him. Egypt had not had the op- 
portunity or the capacity to work out the interrelation of man and 
god in terms satisfactory to both. To put it in a different context, 
Egypt had not had the opportunity or the capacity to work out the 



interrelation of the individual and the community in terms of 
benefit to both. There the Hebrews went farther, but there we 
are still struggling at the present day. 


Did ancient Egypt contribute any significant element to the con- 
tinuing philosophy, ethics, or world-consciousness of later times? 
No, not directly in fields which one may specify, as in the case of 
Babylonian science, Hebrew theology, or Greek or Chinese ration- 
alism. One might critically say that the weight of ancient Egypt 
was not consonant with her size, that her intellectual and spiritual 
contributions were not up to her length of years and her physical 
memorial, and that she herself was unable to realize on her prom- 
ising beginnings in many fields. 

But the very size of Egypt left its mark on her neighbors. The 
Hebrews and the Greeks were deeply conscious of a past power 
and a past stability of this colossal neighbor and had a vague and 
uncritical appreciation of “all the wisdom of the Egyptians.” This 
high appreciation gave them two factors for the stimulation of their 
own thinking: a sense of high value outside their own times and 
places, so that their philosophies had the benefit of some historical 
setting, and a curiosity about the more obvious Egyptian achieve- 
ments: accomplishments in art and architecture, governmental or- 
ganization, and a sense of geometric order. If in gratifying that 
curiosity about Egypt they came across intellectual or ethical ad- 
vances made by Egypt, these could only be valid to them in terms 
of their own experiences, because they were already ancient his- 
tory in Egypt. The Hebrews or Greeks had to rediscover for them- 
selves any elements which had already lost persuasive force in 
Egypt. That culture had reached her intellectual and spiritual 
heights too early to develop any philosophy which could be trans- 
mitted in cultural heritage to the ages. Like Moses, she had had a 
distant glimpse of the Promised Land, but it was left to others to 
cross the Jordan and begin the Conquest. 


1. The two tombs are those of Mereruka, a vizier of the Sixth Dynasty, and of 
Bekenrenef, a vizier of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. References in Porter and Moss, 
Topographical Bibliography^ VoL III: Memphis, pp. 140 C, 171 ff. 

2. “Dedication Address,” December 5, 1931, 

3. Urk. I, 105-6. 


4. Ptahhotep, 

5. Urk. IV, 117. 

6. Ihid., 499. 

7. Ptahhotep, 42'~50. 

8. Anthes, Lebensngeln und Lebensiveishit der alien Aegypter, pp. 12-13. 

9. Ptahhotep, 60-83. 

10. Ibid., 119-33. 

11. Ibid., 264-69. 

12. Ibid., 325-32. 

13. Ibid., 573. 

14. Ibid., 339-49. 

15. Ibid., 84-98. 

16. Admoxi., passim. 

17. Ibid., 7:2-4. 

IB. Ibid., 9:2. 

19. Khekheperresonbu, 10. 

20. Admon., 2:12. 

21. Leb., 93-95; 86-88. 

22. Ibid., 103-16. 

23. Ibid., 130-42. 

24. /M/., 142-47. 

25. 68. 

26. Harris 500, 6:2-9. 

27. Ibid., 1:2-3. 

28. Merikare, 36-37. 

29. Ibid., 128-29. 

30. Coffin Texts, B3C, 11. 570-76; B6C, il. 503-11; BiBo, IL 618-22; see Breas- 
ted, Dav^n of Conscience, p. 221. 

31. TR 37; Rec., 30:189. 

32. Coffin Texts, I, 181. 

33. Bersheh, 11, xix, 8:8-9. 

34. BIFAO, 30:425 ffi; “thou” changed to “he” in last clause, 

35. Peasant, B, 250-52. 

36. E.g., Pyx. Spr. 260; cf. Sethe, Kommentar, I, 394; “Der rote Faden in dem 
Texte ist: Gerechtigkeit, in dem was dem Toten im Leben zuteii wurde und in dem, 
was er selbst nach seinem Tode thut.” 

37. Urk. IV, 390. 

38. Breasted, Ancient Records, Vol. II, §39, n. d. 

39. Schaedei, Die Listen des grossen Papyrus Harris, p. 67. 

40. Anii, 7:17—8:3. 

41. Ameiiemope, 16:5-14. 

42. Berlin 20377; Erman, pp. 1086 fF. 

43. Berlin 6910, Aeg. Inschr., II, 70. 

44. JEA, 3:83 ff . ' 

45. Urk. IV, 993; cf. ibid., 66', BIFAO, 30:504 — all Eighteenth Dynasty. 


46. BiM. Eg., IV, 279, 281; Cairo 42155; both Bekenkhonsu of Nineteenth Dy- 

47. Amenemope, 6:1-12. 

48. Prisse, 1:1-3; 8:11-12; 11 :8-n; Peasant, B, 298-99; B, 313-16; Khekheper- 
resonbu, Verso, 4; Sail. II, 9:9 — 10:1. 

49. Ptahhotep, 58-59; Peasant, B, 74-80. 

50. Anii, 3:17—4:1; 9:10; Amenemope, 22:1-18; 22:20—23:11. 

51. Beatty IV, Recto, 5:8; cf. Beatty IV, Verso, 5:1-2. 

52. Amenemope, 23 : 10-11. 

53. Anii, 4:1-4. 

54. Sail. I, 8:5-6. 

55. Amenemope, 19:14-17. 

56. Ibid., 9:10-13. 

57. Ibid., 21:15-16. 

58. Beatty IV, Verso, 6:5-9. 

59. Berlin 20377. 

60. British Museum 589. 

61. Turin 102. 

62. Beatty IV, Verso, 2 : 5 — 3 : 11. 


The references given in the notes to chapters ii-iv are of an abbreviated char- 
acter known to Egyptologists who may wish to check our translations. Such refer- 
ences normally refer to the source documents. For more general reading there is 
no work on ancient Egypt covering the same ground as that given in these chap- 
ters. However, certain titles may be listed as providing valuable discussions along 
similar lines. James H. Breasted, Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient 
Egypt (New York: Scribner’s, 1912), was a brilliant pioneer work, which is still 
unsurpassed, even by the same author’s The Dawn of Conscience (New York: 
Scribner’s, 1933). There are useful chapters in George Steindorff and Keith C. 
Seele, When Egypt Ruled the East (Chicago, 1942), and in The Legacy of Egypt, 
edited by S. R. K. Glanville (Oxford, 1942). Readers wishing translations of 
Egyptian texts within a single volume are referred to Adolf Erman, The Literature 
of the Ancient Egyptians, translated from German into English by Ayiward M. 
Blackman (London, 1927). In addition to Breasted’ s two books, an authoritative 
work on Egyptian religion is Erman’s Die Religion der Aegypter (Berlin and Leip- 
zig, 1934). Two recommended brief discussions are to be found in brochures: 
Alan H. Gardiner, The Attitude of the Ancient Egyptians to Death and the Dead 
(Cambridge, 1935), and Rudolf Anthes, Lebensregeln und Lebensweisheit der alten 
Aegypter (Ldfzig, • 




I N PASSING from ancient Egypt to ancient Mesopotamia, we 
are leaving a civilization whose enduring monuments still stand, 
“proud pyramids of stone proclaiming man’s sense of sovereign 
power in his triumph over material forces.” We are moving on to 
a civilization whose monuments perished, whose cities — in the 
words of the prophet — “have become heaps.” There is scant re- 
minder of ancient grandeur in the low gray mounds which repre- 
sent Mesopotamia’s past. 

It is altogether fitting that this should be so. It suits the basic 
moods of the two civilizations. Were the Egyptian to come back 
today, he would undoubtedly take heart from the endurance of his 
pyramids, for he accorded to man and to man’s tangible achieve- 
ments more basic significance than most civilizations have been 
willing to do. Were the Mesopotamian to return, he could hardly 
feel deeply disturbed that his works have crumbled, for he always 
knew, and knew deeply, that as for “mere man — ^his days are num- 
bered; whatever he may do, he is but wind.”^ To him the center 
and meaning of existence always lay beyond man and his achieve- 
ments, beyond tangible things, in intangible powers ruling the 

How the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian civilizations came to 
acquire these very different moods — one trusting, the other dis- 
trusting, man’s power and ultimate significance — ^is not an easy 
question. The “mood” of a civilization is the outcome of processes 
so intricate and so complex as to defy precise analysis. We shall 
therefore merely point to a single factor which would seem to have 
played a considerable role — the factor of environment. Chapters 
ii-iv have already stressed the active role of the environment in 
shaping the outlook of early Egypt. Egyptian civilization arose in 
a compact country where village lay reassuringly close to village, 



the whole ringed around and isolated by protecting mountain bar- 
riers. Over this sheltered world passed every day a dependable, 
never failing sun, calling Egypt back to life and activity after the 
darkness of night; here rose every year the trusty Nile to fertilize 
and revivify the Egyptian soil. It is almost as though Nature had 
deliberately restrained herself, as though she had set this secure 
valley apart so that man could disport himself unhindered. 

It is small wonder that a great civilization arising on such a 
scene should be filled with a sense of its own power, should be 
deeply impressed with its own — with human — accomplishments. 
Chapter iv defined the attitude of early Egypt as “a frontier spirit 
of visible accomplishments, of the first success in a new line. There 
was a youthful and self-reliant arrogance, because there had been 
no setbacks. Man was enough in himself. The gods? Yes, they 
were off there somewhere, and they had made this good world, to 
be sure; but the world was good because man was himself master, 
without need for the constant support of the gods.” 

The experience of Nature which gave rise to this mood found 
direct expression in the Egyptian notion of the cosmos. The Egyp- 
tian cosmos was eminently reliable and comforting. It had — to 
quote chapter ii — “reassuring periodicity; its structural frame- 
work and mechanics permitted the reiteration of life through the 
rebirth of life-giving elements.” 

Mesopotamian civilization grew up in an environment which 
was signally different. We find there, of course, tlie same great 
cosmic rhythms — the change of the seasons, the unwavering sweep 
of sun, moon, and stars — but we also find an element of force and 
violence which was lacking in Egypt. The Tigris and the Euphrates 
are not like the Nile; they may rise unpredictably and fitfully, 
breaking man’s dikes and submerging his crops. There are scorch- 
ing winds which smother man in dust, threaten to suffocate him; 
there are torrential rains which turn all firm ground into a sea of 
mud and rob man of his freedom of movement; all travel bogs 
down. Here, in Mesopotamia, Nature stays not her hand; in her 
full might she cuts across and overrides man’s will, makes him 
feel to the full how slightly he matters. 

The mood of Mesopotamian civilization reflects this. Man is 



not tempted to overrate himself when he contemplates powers in 
nature such as the thunderstorm and the yearly flood. Of the thun- 
derstorm the Mesopotamian said that its “dreadful flares of light 
cover the land like a cloth.”^ The impression which the flood made 
on him may be gathered from the following description: 

The rampant flood which no man can oppose, 

Which shakes the heavens and causes earth to tremble. 

In an appalling blanket folds mother and child, 

Beats down the canebrake’s full luxuriant greenery. 

And drowns the harvest in its time of ripeness. 

Rising waters, grievous to eyes of man. 

All-powerful flood, which forces the embankments 
And mows mighty mesu-trets, 

(Frenzied) storm, tearing all things in massed confusion 
With it (in hurtling speed) ? 

Standing amidst such powers, man sees how weak he is, realizes 
with dread that he is caught in an interplay of giant forces. His 
mood becomes tense; his own lack of power makes him acutely 
aware of tragic potentialities. 

The experience of Nature which produced this mood found di- 
rect expression in the Mesopotamian’s notion of the cosmos in 
which he lived. He was in no way blind to the great rhythms of 
the cosmos; he saw the cosmos as order, not as anarchy. But to 
him that order was not nearly so safe and reassuring as it was to 
the Egyptian. Through and under it he sensed a multitude of power- 
ful individual wills, potentially divergent, potentially conflicting, 
fraught with a possibility of anarchy. He confronted in Nature gi- 
gantic and wilfol individual powers. 

To the Mesopotamian, accordingly, cosmic order did not ap- 
pear as something given; rather it became something achieved — 
achieved through a continual integration of the many individual 
cosmic wills, each so powerful, so frightening. His understanding 
of the cosmos tended therefore to express itself in terms of inte- 
gration of wills, that is, in terms of social orders such as the fam- 
ily, the community, and, most particularly, the state. To put it suc- 
cinctly, he saw the cosmic order as an order of wills — as a state. 

In presenting this view here, we shall discuss first the period in 
which it may be assumed to have originated, Wfe shall then take up 


the question of what the Mesopotamian saw in the phenomena of 
the world around him, in order to show how it could be possible 
for him to apply an order from the social sphere, the state, to the 
basically different world of Nature. Lastly, we shall discuss that 
order in detail and comment on those forces which played the most 
prominent part in it. 


The Mesopotamian’s understanding of the universe in which he 
lived seems to have found its characteristic form at about the time 
when Mesopotamian civilization as a whole took shape, that is, in 
the Proto-literate period, around the middle of the fourth millen- 
nium B.C. 

Thousands of years had already passed since man first entered 
the valley of the Two Rivers, and one prehistoric culture had fol- 
lowed another — all basically alike, none signally different from 
what one might have found elsewhere in the world. During those 
millenniums agriculture was the chief means of support. Tools 
were fashioned from stone, rarely from copper. Villages, made up 
of patriarchal families, seem to have been the typical form of set- 
tlement. The most conspicuous change from one such culture to 
another, surely not a very profound one, seems to have been in the 
way pottery was made and decorated. 

But with the advent of the Proto-literate period the picture 
changes. Overnight, as it were, Mesopotamian civilization crystal- 
lizes. The fundamental pattern, the controlling framework within 
which Mesopotamia is to live its life, formulate its deepest ques- 
tions, evaluate itself and evaluate the universe, for ages to come, 
flashes into being, complete in all its main features. 

In the economic sphere appeared planned large-scale irrigation by 
means of canals, a form which forever after was to be characteristic 
of Mesopotamian agriculture. Concurrent with this and closely in- 
terrelated with it was a spectacular increase in population. The old 
villages expanded into cities; new settlements were founded 
throughout the country. And, as village grew into city, the political 
pattern of the new civilization emerged — Primitive Democracy . In 
the new city-state ultimate political power rested with a general 
assembly of all adult freemen. Normally the everyday affairs of 



the community were guided by a council of elders; but in times of 
crisis, for instance, when war threatened, the general assembly 
could confer absolute powers on one of its members and proclaim 
him king. Such kingship was an office held for a limited term; and, 
as the assembly could confer it, so it could also revoke it when a 
crisis was past. 

The centralization of authority which this new political pattern 
made possible may have been responsible, along with other factors, 
for the emergence of a truly monumental architecture in Mesopo- 
tamia. Imposing temples now began to rise in the plain, often built 
on gigantic artificial mountains of sun-dried bricks, the famous ziq- 
qurats. Works of such imposing proportions clearly presuppose a 
high degree of organization and direction in the community which 
achieved them. 

As these things were happening in the economic and social fields, 
new peaks of achievement were attained in the more spiritual 
fields of endeavor. Writing was invented, at first serving to facili- 
tate the ever more complicated accounting which had become nec- 
essary with the expansion of city and temple economy. Eventually 
it was to become the vehicle of a most significant literature. More- 
over, Mesopotamia produced art worthy of the name; and the 
works of these early artists compare very well with the best of 
later periods. 

In economics, in politics, and in the arts Mesopotamia thus found 
at this early stage its guiding forms, created set ways in which to 
deal with the universe in its various aspects as they confronted 
man. It would not be surprising, therefore, to find that the view 
taken of the universe as a whole should likewise have clarified and 
taken form at that time. That this actually happened is indicated by 
the world view itself. As we have already mentioned, Mesopo- 
tamian civilization interpreted the universe as a state. However, 
the basis of interpretation was not the state that existed in historic 
times but the state as it had been before history — a Primitive De- 
mocracy. We have therefore the right to assume that the idea of a 
cosmic state crystallized very early, when Primitive Democracy 
was the prevalent type of state — ^indeed, with Mesopotamian 
civilization itself. 



Assuming, then, that the Mesopotamian view of the universe 
was as old as Mesopotamian civilization itself, we must next ask 
how it could be at all possible to take such a view. Certainly for us 
it has no meaning whatever to speak of the universe as a state— of 
stones and stars, winds and waters, as citizens and as members of 
legislative assemblies. Our universe is made up largely of things, of 
dead matter with neither life nor will. This leads us to the ques- 
tion of what the Mesopotamian saw in the phenomena which sur- 
rounded him, the world in which he lived. 

The reader will remember from the first chapter that “the 
world appears to primitive man neither inanimate nor empty but 
redundant with life.^’ It was said of primitive man tliat “any phe- 
nomenon may at any time face him not as Tt’ but as ‘Thou.’ In 
this confrontation ‘Thou’ reveals individuality, qualities, will.” 
Out of the repeated experience of the “I-Thou” relationship a 
fairly consistent personalistic view may develop. Objects and phe- 
nomena in man’s environment become personified in varying de- 
grees. They are somehow alive; they have wills of their own; each 
is a definite personality. We then have what the late Andrew Lang 
disapprovingly described as “that inextricable confusion in which 
men, beasts, plants, stones, stars are all on one level of personality 
and animated existence.”* 

A few examples may show that Lang’s words well describe the 
Mesopotamian’s approach to the phenomena around him. Ordinary 
kitchen salt is to us an inanimate substance, a mineral. To the 
Mesopotamian it was a fellow-being whose help might be sought 
if one had fallen victim to sorcery and witchcraft. The sufferer 
would then address it as follows: 

0 Salt, created in a clean place, 

For food of gods did Enlil destine thee. 

Without thee no meal is set out in Ekur, 

Without thee god, Idng, lord, and prince do not smell incense, 

1 am so-and-so, the son of so-and-so, 

Held captive by enchantment, 

Held in fever by bewitchment. 

O Salt, break my enchantment! Loose my spell! 

Take from me the bewitchment! — ^And as my Creator 



As Salt, a fellow-creature with special powers, can be approached 
directly, so can Grain. When a man offered up flour to conciliate 
an angry deity, he might say to it; 

I will send thee to my angry god, my angry goddess. 

Whose heart is filled with furious rage against me. 

Do thou reconcile my angry god, my angry goddess. 

Both Salt and Grain are thus not the inanimate substances for 
which we know them. They are alive, have personality and a will 
of their own. So had any phenomenon in the Mesopotamian world 
whenever it was approached in a spirit other than that of hum- 
drum, practical, everyday pursuits: in magic, in religion, in specu- 
lative thought. In such a world it obviously gives better sense than 
it does in our world to speak of the relations between phenomena 
of nature as social relations, of the order in which they function as 
an order of wills, as a state. 

By saying that the phenomena of the world were alive for the 
Mesopotamian, that they were personified, we have made things 
simpler than they actually are. We have glossed over a potential 
distinction which was felt by the Mesopotamian. It is not correct 
to say that each phenomenon was a person; we must say that there 
was a will and a personality in each phenomenon — ^in it and yet 
somehow behind it, for the single concrete phenomenon did not 
completely circumscribe and exhaust the will and personality as- 
sociated with it. For instance, a particular lump of flint had a clear- 
ly recognizable personality and will. Dark, heavy, and hard, it 
would show a curious willingness to flake under the craftsman’s 
tool though that tool was only of horn softer than the stone against 
which it was pressed. Now, this characteristic personality which 
confronts one here, in this particular lump of flint, may meet one 
also over there, in another lump of flint, which seems to say: “Here 
I am again — dark, heavy, hard, willing to flake, I, Flint!” Wher- 
ever one met it, its name was “Flint,” and it would suffer itself to 
flake easily. That was because it had once fought the god Ninurta, 
and Ninurta had imposed flaking on it as a punishment.® 

We may consider another example— the reeds which grew in the 
Mesopotamian marshes. It is quite clear from our texts that, in 
themselves, they were never divine. Any individual reed counted 
merely as a plant, a thing, and so did all reeds. The concrete in- 


dividual reed, however, had wonderful qualities which inspired 
awe. There was a mysterious power to grow luxuriantly in the 
marshes. A reed was capable of amazing things, such as the music 
which would come out of a shepherd’s pipe, or the meaningful 
signs which would take form under the scribe’s reed stylus and 
make a story or a poem. These powers, which were to be found in 
every reed and were always the same, combined for the Mesopo- 
tamian into a divine personality — ^that of the goddess Nidaba. It 
was Nidaba who made the reeds thrive in the marshes; if she were 
not near, the shepherd could not soothe the heart with music from 
his reed pipe. To her would the scribe give praise when a difficult 
piece of writing had come out from under his stylus and he saw it 
to be good. The goddess was thus the power in all reeds; she made 
them what they were, lent them her mysterious qualities. She was 
one with every reed in the sense that she permeated it as an ani- 
mating and characterizing agent; but she did not lose her identity 
in that of the concrete phenomenon and was not limited by any or 
even all existing reeds In a crude but quite effective manner the 
Mesopotamian artists suggested this relationship when they de- 
picted the reed-goddess. She is shown in human form as a vener- 
able matron. But the reeds also are there: they sprout from her 
shoulders — are bodily one with her and seem to derive directly 
from her. 

In a great many individual phenomena, such as individual lumps 
of flint or individual reeds, the Mesopotamian thus felt that he was 
confronted by a single self. He sensed, as it were, a common power- 
center which was charged with a particular personality and was it- 
self personal. This personal power-center pervaded the individual 
phenomena and gave them the character which they are seen to 
have: “Flint” all lumps of flint, Nidaba all reeds, etc. 

Even more curious than this, however, is the fact that one such 
self might infuse itself into other different selves and, in a relation 
of partial identity, lend them of its character. We may illustrate by 
quoting a Mesopotamian incantation by which a man sought to be- 
come identical with Heaven and Earth: 

lam Heaven, you cannot touch me, 

lam Earth, you cannot bewitch me!® 



The man is trying to ward off sorcery from his body, and his at- 
tention is centered on a single quality of Heaven and Earth, their 
sacred inviolability. When he has made himself identical with 
them, this quality will flow into him and merge with his being, so 
that he will be secure from attacks by witchcraft. 

Very similar is another incantation in which a man endeavors to 
drench every part of his body in immunity by such identification 
with gods and sacred emblems. It reads: 

Enlil is my head, my face is the day; 

Urash, the peerless god, is the protecting spirit leading my way. 

My neck is the necklace of the goddess Ninlil, 

My two arms are the sickle of the western moon. 

My fingers tamarisk, bone of the gods of heaven; 

They ward off the embrace of sorcery from my body; 

The gods Lugal-edinna and Latarak are my breast and knees; 

Muhra my ever-wandering feet.® 

Here again the identity sought is only partial. Quahties of these 
gods and sacred emblems are to infuse the man’s members and 
make him inviolable. 

As it was thought possible for a man to achieve partial identity 
with various gods, so could one god enjoy partial identity wiA 
other gods and thus share in their natures and abilities. We are 
told, for instance, that the face of the god Ninurta is Shamash, the 
sun-god; that one of Ninurta’s ears is the god of wisdom, Ea — and 
so on through all of Ninurta’s members.^® These curious state- 
ments may be taken to mean that Ninurta’s face derived its daz- 
zling radiance from, and thus shared in, that brilliance which is 
characteristically the sun-god’s and concentrates itself in him. In 
similar manner, his ear— for the Mesopotamians believed the ear, 
not the brain, to be the seat of intelligence— shares in that supreme 
intelligence which is the outstanding characteristic of the god Ea. 

Sometimes such statements of partial identity take a slightly 
different form. We are told, for instance, that die god Marduk is 
the god Enlil when there is question of ruling and taking counsel, 
but that he is Sin, the moon-god, when he acts as illuminer of the 
night, etc.^^ This apparently means that the god Marduk, when he 
rules and makes decisions, partakes of the personality, qualities, 


and abilities of the divine executive par excellence, the god Enlil. 
When, on the other hand, Marduk, as the planet Jupiter, shines in 
the nightly skies, he shares in those special powers which char- 
acterize the moon-god and have their center in him. 

Any phenomenon which the Mesopotamian met in the world 
around him was thus alive, had its own personality and will, its dis- 
tinct self. But the self which revealed itself, for example, in a par- 
ticular lump of flint, was not limited by that particular lump; it 
was in it and yet behind it; it permeated it and gave it character as 
it did all lumps of flint. And as one such “self’ could permeate 
many individual phenomena, so it might also permeate other selves 
and thereby give to them ofits specific character to add to the qual- 
ities which they had in their own right. 

To understand nature, the many and varied phenomena around 
man, was thus to understand the personalities in these phenomena, 
to know their characters, the direction of their wills, and also the 
range of their powers. It was a task not different from that of un- 
derstanding other men, knowing their characters, their wills, the 
extent of their power and influence. And intuitively the Mesopo- 
tamian applied to nature the experience he had of his own human 
society, interpreting it in social terms. A particularly suggestive 
example will illustrate this. Under our eyes, as it were, objective 
reality assumes the form of a social type. 

According to Mesopotamian beliefs, a man who had been be- 
witched could destroy the enemies who had bewitched him by 
burning images of them. The characteristic self of the enemy stared 
up at him from the image. He could get at it and harm it there, as 
well as in the person. And so he consigned the images to the fire 
while addressing it as follows: 

Scorching Fire, warlike son of Heaven, 

Thou, the fiercest of thy brethren. 

Who like Moon and Sun decidest lawsuits— 

Judge thou my case, hand down the verdict. 

Burn the man and woman who bewitched me; 

Burn, O Fire, the man and woman who bewitched me; 

Scorch, O Fire, the man and woman who bewitched me; 

Bum them, O Fire; 

Scorch them, O Fire; 

Take hold of them, O Fire; 

Consume them, 0 Fire; 

Destroy them, O Fire.‘® 



It is quite clear that the man approaches the fire for the destruc- 
tive power he knows to be in it. But the fire has a will of its own; 
it will burn the images — and in them his enemies — onl^ if it so 
chooses. And in deciding whether to burn the images or not, the 
fire becomes a judge between the man and his enemies; the situa- 
tion becomes a lawsuit in which the man pleads his cause and asks 
the fire to vindicate him. The power which is in fire has taken defi- 
nite form, has been interpreted in social terms; it is a judge. 

As the fire here becomes a judge, other powers take form in sim- 
ilar pregnant situations. The thunderstorm was a warrior; he flung 
deadly lighming, and one could hear the roar emitted by the wheels 
of his war chariot. The earth was a woman, a mother; she gave 
birth each year to the new vegetation. In such cases the Mesopo- 
tamians did only what other people have done throughout the ages. 
“Men,” as Aristotle says, “imagine not only the forms of the gods 
but their ways of life to be like their own.”’^® 

If we were to try to single out a typically Mesopotamian fea- 
ture, we should perhaps point to the degree to which this people 
found and emphasized organized relationships of the powers they 
recognized. While all people tend to humanize nonhuman powers 
and frequently visualize them as social types, Mesopotamian spec- 
ulative thought seems to have brought out and systematized to an 
unusual degree the implications of social and political function 
latent in such typifying and to have elaborated them into clear- 
cut institutions. This particular emphasis would seem to be closely 
bound up with the nature of the society in which the Mesopotamian 
lived and from which he derived his terms and his evaluation. 

When the universe was taking form for the Mesopotamian, he 
lived, we have argued, in a Primitive Democracy. All great under- 
takings, all important decisions, originated in a general assembly 
of all the citizens; they were not the affair of any single individual. 
It is accordingly natural that, in trying to understand how the 
great cosmic events were brought about, he should be especially 
intent upon the ways in which the individual forces of the cosmos 
co-operated to run the universe. Cosmic institutions would natural- 
ly come to loom important in his view of the universe, and the 
structure of the universe would stand out clearly as the structure 
of a state. 



The commonwealth of the Mesopotamian cosmos encompassed 
the whole existing world — in fact, anything that could be thought 
of as an entity: humans, animals, inanimate objects, natural phe- 
nomena, as well as notions such as justice, righteousness, the form 
of a circle, etc. How such entities could all be seen as members of 
a state we have just shown; they had in them will, character, and 
power. But though all things that could be imagined were members 
of the cosmic state, they were not all members on the same political 
level. The criterion of dilferentiation was power. 

In the state on earth there were large groups of people who had 
no share in the government. Slaves, children, and perhaps women 
had no voice in the assembly. Only the adult freemen met there to 
decide on public affairs; they alone were citizens in the true sense. 
Quite similarly in the state which the universe constituted. Only 
those natural forces whose power inspired the Mesopotamian with 
awe, and whom he therefore ranked as gods, were considered full 
citizens of the universe, were thought to have political rights and 
to exercise political influence. The general assembly in the cosmic 
state was therefore an assembly of gods. 

We hear about this assembly often in Mesopotamian literature, 
and we know in general how it functioned. It was the highest au- 
thority in the universe. Here the momentous decisions regarding 
the course of all things and the fates of all beings were made and 
were confirmed by the members of the assembly. Before that stage 
was reached, however, proposals were discussed, perhaps even 
heatedly, by gods who were for or against them. The leader of the 
assembly was the god of heaven, Anu. At his side stood his son 
Enlil, god of the storm. One of these usually broached the matters 
to be considered, and the gods would then discuss them. Through 
such discussions (the Mesopotamians called it “asking one an- 
other”) the issues were clarified, and the consensus would begin to 
stand out. Of special weight in the discussion were the voices of a 
small group of the most prominent gods, “the seven gods who de- 
termine destinies.” In this way, full agreement was finally reached, 
all the gods assented with a firm “Let it be,” and the decision was 
announced by Anu and Enlil. It was now “the verdict, the word of 



the assembly of the gods, the command of Anu and Enlil.” The 
executive duties (the task of carrying out the decisions) seem to 
have rested with Enlil. 


We have seen that the gods who constituted the divine assembly 
were powers which the Mesopotamians recognized in and behind 
the various phenomena of nature. Which of these powers, then, 
played the most prominent roles in the assembly, influenced most 
the course of the universe? In a sense we may answer: “The pow- 
ers in those elements of the cosmos which were seen to be the 
greatest and most prominent.” 

Anu, the highest of the gods, was god of the sky, and his name 
was the everyday word for “sky.” The dominant role which the 
sky plays — even in a merely spatial sense — in the composition of 
the visible universe, and the eminent position which it occupies, 
high above all other things, may well explain why Anu should rank 
as the most important force in the cosmos. 

Enlil, the second highest of the gods, was god of the storm. His 
name means “Lord Storm,” and he personifies the essence of the 
storm. No one who has experienced a storm in flat, open Mesopo- 
tamia can possibly doubt the might of this cosmic force. The storm, 
master of all free space under the sky, ranked naturally as the sec- 
ond great component of the cosmos. 

As third basic component of the visible universe comes the 
earth. Earth, so near to man, so vitally important to him in so 
many of its aspects, was difficult to view and hold fast within the 
scope of a single concept. We meet it as “Mother Earth,” the fer- 
tile giver of blessings to man, and as the “queen of the gods” and 
“lady of the mountains.” But the earth is also the source of the life- 
giving waters in rivers, canals, and wells; waters which stream 
from a vast sea within. And as the source of these waters the earth 
was viewed as male, as “lord of the earth,” more originally 

perhaps “Lord Earth.” The third and fourth in rank of the Meso- 
potamian gods were these two aspects of the earth, Ninhursaga 
and Enki. They round off the list of the most important cosmic 
elements that must rank highest and exercise the greatest influence 
on all that is. 


A. The Power IN THE Sky: Authority 

But considerations of size and position alone could hardly have 
suggested the specific character and the function which these pow- 
ers were assumed to have in the universe. The Mesopotamian con- 
ceived both character and function in direct confrontation with the 
phenomena when they “revealed” themselves and deeply affected 

The sky can, at moments when man is in a singularly receptive 
mood, reveal itself in an almost terrifying experience. The vast sky 
encircling one on all sides may be felt as a presence at once over- 
whelming and awesome, forcing one to his knees merely by its 
sheer being. And this feeling which the sky inspires is definite and 
can be named; it is that inspired by majesty. There is in it the ex- 
perience of greatness or even of the tremendous. There comes a 
keen realization of one’s own insignificance, of unbridgeable re- 
moteness. The Mesopotamians express this well when they say, 
“Godhead awesome as the faraway heavens, as the broad sea.” 
But, though a feeling of distance, this feeling is not one of absolute 
separation; it has a strong element of sympathy and of the most un- 
qualified acceptance. 

Beyond all, however, the experience of majesty is the experience 
of power, of power bordering on the tremendous, but power at 
rest, not consciously imposing its will. The power behind majesty 
is so great that it need not exert itself. Without any effort on its 
part it commands allegiance by its very presence; the onlooker 
obeys freely, through a categorical imperative rising from the 
depths of his own soul. 

This majesty and absolute authority which can be experienced 
in the sky the Mesopotamians called Anu. Anu was the overpower- 
ing personality of the sky, the “Thou” which permeated it and 
could be felt through it. If the sky was considered apart from him, 
as it could be, it receded into the category of things and became 
a mere abode for the god. 

The “Thou” which met the Mesopotamian when he confronted 
the sky was so powerfully experienced that it was felt to be the 
very center and source of all majesty. Wherever else he found ma- 
jesty and authority he knew it to be that power in the sky, to be 
Anu. And he did find it elsewhere; indeed, authority, the power 



which produces automatic acceptance and obedience, is a basic 
constituent in all organized human society. Were it not for unques- 
tioning obedience to customs, to laws, and to those “in authority,” 
society would dissolve in anarchy and chaos. So in those persons in 
whom authority resided — the father in the family, the ruler in the 
state— the Mesopotamian recognized something of Anu and Anu’s 
essence. As the father of the gods, Anu was the prototype of all 
fathers; as the “pristine king and ruler,” he was the prototype of 
all rulers. To him belong the insignia in which the essence of roy- 
alty was embodied — the scepter, the crown, the headband, and 
the shepherd’s staff — and from him did they derive. Before any 
king had yet been appointed among men these insignia already 
were, and they rested in heaven before Anu. From there they de- 
scended to earth. Anu also calls to kingship; and when the king 
commands and the command is unquestioningly and immediately 
obeyed, when it “comes true,” it is again the essence of Anu 
which manifests itself. It is Anu’s conunand that issues through the 
king’s mouth; it is Anu’s power that makes it immediately effica- 

But human society was to the Mesopotamian merely a part of 
the larger society of the universe. The Mesopotamian universe — 
because it did not consist of dead matter, because every stone, every 
tree, every conceivable thing in it was a being with a will and char- 
acter of its own — was likewise founded on authority; its members, 
too, willingly and automatically obeyed orders which made them 
act as they should act. These orders we call laws of nature. So the 
whole universe showed the influence of the essence peculiar to 

When in the Babylonian creation story the god Marduk is given 
absolute authority, and all things and forces in the universe auto- 
matically conform themselves to his will so that whatever he orders 
immediately comes to pass, then his command has become identical 
in essence with Anu and the gods exclaim; “Thy word is Anu.” 

We see thus that Anu is the source of and active principle in all 
authority, both in human society and in the larger society which is 
the universe. He is the force which lifts it out of chaos and an- '■ 
archy and makes it into a structure, an organized whole; he is the 
force which insures the necessary voluntary obedience to orders. 


laws, and customs in society and to the natural laws in the physical 
world, in short, to world order. As a building is supported by, and 
reveals in its structure the lines of, its foundation, so the Mesopo- 
tamian universe is upheld by, and reflects in its strucmre, a divine 
will. Ann’s command is the foundation of heaven and earth. 

What we have said here at some length about the function of 
Anu is said briefly and concisely by the Mesopotamians them- 
selves. When the great gods address Anu in the “Myth of the Ele- 
vation of Inanna,” they exclaim: 

What thou hast ordered (comes) true! 

The utterance of prince and lord is (but) 

what thou hast ordered, (that with which) thou art in agreement. 

O Anu! thy great command takes precedence, 
who could say no (to it) ? 

0 father of the gods, thy command, 
the very foundation of heaven and earth, 
what god could spurn (it)?^'^ 

As the absolute sovereign of the world, the highest power in the 
universe, Anu is described in such words as these: 

Wielder of the scepter, the ring, and the palu 
who callest to kingship. 

Sovereign of the gods, whose word prevails 
in the ordained assembly of the great gods, 

Lord of the glorious crown, astounding 
through thine enchantment. 

Rider of great storms, who occupies the dais of sovereignty, 
wondrously regal — 

To the pronouncements of thy holy mouth 
are the Igigi attentive; 

In fear before thee move the Anunnald, 

Like storm-swept reeds bow to thy orders 
all the gods.^^ 

B. The Power in the Storm: Force 

'Turning from Anu, god of the sky, to Enlil, god of the storm, we 
meet a power of a somewhat different cast. As his name En-lil, 
“Lord Storm,” suggests, he was in a sense the storm itself. As the 
storm, the undisputed master of all space between heaven and earth, 
Enlil was palpably the second greatest power of the visible uni- 
verse, second only to the sky above him. 



In the storm he “reveals” himself. The violence, the force, 
■which fills it and is experienced in it was the god, was Enlil. It is 
thus through the storm, through its violence and force, that we 
must seek to understand the god and his function in the universe. 

The city of Ur had long held sway over Babylonia. Then it fell 
before a merciless attack by Elamitic hordes which swept down 
upon it from the eastern mountains. The utter destruction of the 
city was wrought, in our terms, by the barbaric hordes which at- 
tacked it. Not so in terms of the Mesopotamian’s own under- 
standing of his universe: the wild destructive essence manifest in 
this attack was Enlil’s. The enemy hordes were but a cloak, an 
outward form under which that essence realized itself. In a deeper, 
truer sense the barbaric hordes were a storm, Enlil’ s storm, where- 
with the god himself was executing a verdict passed on Ur and its 
people by the assembly of the gods; and as that storm the enemy 
attack is seen and described: 

Enlil called the storm. 

The people mourn. 

Exhilarating winds he took from the land. 

The people mourn. 

Good winds he took away from Shumer. 

The people mourn. 

He summoned evil winds. 

The people mourn. 

Entrusted them to Kingaluda, tender of storms. 

He called the storm that will annihilate the land. 

The people mourn. 

He called disastrous winds. 

The people mourn. 

Enlil — ^choosing Gibil as his helper — 

Called the (great) hurricane of heaven. 

The people mourn. 

The (blinding) hurricane howling across the skies, 

—The people mourn — 

The shattering storm roaring across the land, 

The tempest which, relentless as a floodwave, 

Beats down upon, devours the city's ships. 

All these he gathered at the base of heaven* 



(Great) fires he lit that heralded the storm. 

The people mourn. 

And lit on either flank of furious winds 
The searing heat of desert. 

Like flaming heat of noon this fire scorched.^® 

This storm is the true cause of the city’s downfall: 

The storm ordered by Enlil in hate, the storm 
which wears away the country, 
covered Ur like a cloth, enveloped it like a linen sheet.^*^ 

It is the cause of the destruction wrought: 

On that day did the storm leave the city; 
that city was a ruin. 

O father Nanna, that town was left a ruin. 

The people mourn. 

On that day did the storm leave the country. 

The people mourn. 

(Dead) men, not potsherds, 

Covered the approaches. 

The walls were gaping. 

The high gates, the roads, 

Were piled with dead. 

In the wide streets, where feasting crowds would gather. 

Scattered they lay. 

In all the streets and roadways bodies lay. 

In open fields that used to fill with dancers, 

They lay in heaps. 

The country’s blood now filled its holes, 
like metal in a mold; 

Bodies dissolved — like fat left in the sun.^^ 

In the great catastrophes of history, in the crushing blows voted 
by the assembly of the gods, there is Enlil, essence of the storm. 

He is force, executor of the verdicts of the gods. 

But not only as divine sheriff, as executor of all punitive decrees 
in the cosmic state, is Enlil active. He participates in all legitimate 
exercise of force, and thus it is he who leads the gods in war. The 
great Mesopotamian myth of creation, Emma elish, has had a 
somewhat turbulent career; as its hero we find sometimes one, 
sometimes another, god. There can be little doubt, however, that 



the myth, in its original form, centered around Enlil. As such, it 
describes the dangers which once beset the gods when they were 
threatened with attack from the powers of chaos: how neither the 
command of Enki nor that of Anu, reinforced by the authority of 
the assembly of gods, could stay them; how the gods assembled 
and chose young Enlil to be their king and champion; and how 
Enlil vanquished the enemy, Ti’amat, by means of the storms, 
those forces which express the essence of his being. 

Thus, in the society which the Mesopotamian universe consti- 
tutes, Anu represents authority, Enlil force. The subjective ex- 
perience of the sky, of Anu, is, as we have seen, one of majesty, of 
absolute authority which commands allegiance by its very pres- 
ence. The onlooker obeys it not through any outward pressure but 
through a categorical imperative which rises within his own soul. 
Not so with Enlil, the storm. Here, too, is power; but it is the pow- 
er of force, of compulsion. Opposing wills are crushed and beaten 
into submission. In the assembly of the gods, the ruling body of 
the universe, Anu presides and directs the proceedings. His will 
and authority, freely and voluntarily accepted, guide the assembly 
much as a constitution guides the actions of a lawmaking body. In- 
deed, his will is the unwritten, living constitution of the Mesopo- 
tamian world state. But whenever force enters the picture, when 
the cosmic state is enforcing its will against opposition, then En- 
lil takes the center of the stage. He executes the sentences imposed 
by the assembly; he leads the gods in war. Thus Anu and Enlil em- 
body, on a cosmic level, the two powers which are the fundamental 
constituents of any state: authority and legitimate force; for, 
while authority alone may suffice to hold a community together, 
such a community becomes a state only when it develops organs to 
back up its authority with force, when its staff, to quote Max 
Weber, “successfully displays the monopoly of a legitimate physi- 
cal compulsion.” For this reason we can say that, while it is the 
powers of Anu that make the Mesopotamian universe an organized 
society, it is the complementary powers of Enlil that define this 
society as a state. 

Because Enlil is force, his character is one of peculiar duality: he 
is at one and the same time the trust and the fear of man. He is 


force as legitimate force, upholder of the state, a rock of strength 
even to the gods. Man greets him in words like these: 

0 Thou who dost encompass all heaven and earth, fleet god, 

Wise mstructor of the people, 

Who dost survey the regions of the world; 

Prince, counselor, whose word is heeded, 

Whose spoken word .... gods cannot alter, 

The utterance of whose lips no god may spurn; 

Great Lord, ruler of gods in heaven, 

Counselor of gods on earth, judicious princed® 

Yet, because Enlil is force, there lie hidden in the dark depths of his 
soul both violence and wildness. The normal Enlil upholds the 
cosmos, guarantees order against chaos; but suddenly and unpre- 
dictably the hidden wildness in him may break forth. This side of 
Enlil is truly and terribly the abnormal, a scattering of all life and 
of life’s meaning. Therefore, man can never be fully at ease with 
Enlil but feels a lurking fear which finds expression frequently in 
the hymns which have come down to us: 

What has he planned . . . . ? 

What is in my fatheris heart? 

What is in EnliFs holy mind? 

What has he planned against me in his holy mind? 

A net he spread: that is the net of an enemy. 

A snare he set: that is the snare of an enemy. 

He has stirred up the waters, and will catch the fishes. 

He cast his net, and will (bring) down the birds 

This same fear shows in other descriptions of Enlil, who may 
let his people perish in the merciless storm. The god’s rage is al- 
most pathological, an inner turmoil of the soul which renders him 
insensate, inaccessible to all appeals: 

O father Enlil, whose eyes are glaring (wildly). 

How long — till they will be at peace again? 

O thou who covered up thy head with a cloth— how long? 

O thou who laid thy head upon thy knees— how long? 

O thou who closed thy heart like an earthen box — how long? 

O mighty one who with thy fingers sealed thine ears — how long? 

O father Enlil, even now they perish 



C. The Power in the Earth: Fertility 

The third great component of the visible cosmos is the Earth, 
and the Mesopotamians acknowledged it as the third most impor- 
tant power in the universe. Their understanding of this power and 
its ways was gained, as with sky and storm, in direct experience of 
it as inner will and direction. Correspondingly, the ancient name 
of this deity, Ki, “Earth,” had difficulty in maintaining itself and 
tended ever more to give way to other names based on significant 
characteristics. The earth revealed itself to the Mesopotamians be- 
fore all as “Mother Earth,” the great inexhaustible mysterious 
source of new life, of fertility in all its forms. Every year she gives 
birth anew to grass and plants. The arid desert becomes green 
overnight. The shepherds drive out their flocks. Ewes and goats 
give birth to lambs and kids. Everything thrives and increases. On 
the good fields of Shumer “grain, the green maiden, lifts her head 
in the furrow”; soon a rich harvest will fill granaries and store- 
houses to overflowing. Well-fed humanity, full of beer, bread, and 
milk, will feel abundant life surge through their bodies in a wave 
of profound well-being. 

The force active in all this — the power manifesting itself in fer- 
tility, in birth, in new life — is the essence of the earth. The earth, 
as a divine power, is Nin-tu, “the lady who gives birth”; she is 
Nig-zi-gdl-dtm-me, “the fashioner of everything wherein is the 
breath of life.” Reliefs show her as a woman suckling a child; 
other children are tucked away under her dress and peep out wher- 
ever they can; embryos surround her. As the incarnation of all re- 
productive forces in the universe, she is the “mother of the gods” 
and also the mother and creator of mankind; indeed, she is— as an 
inscription states— the “mother of all children.” If she so wills, she 
may deny an evildoer offspring or even stop all birth in the land. 

As the active principle in birth and fertility, in the continual re- 
newal of vegetation, dhe growth of crops, the increase of flocks, 
the perpetuation of the human race, she holds with right her posi- 
tion as a dominant power, takes her seat with Anu and Enlil in the 
assembly of the gods, the ruling body of the universe. She is Nin- 
mah., “the exalted queen”; she is “queen of the gods,” “queen of 


kings and lords,” the “lady who determines fates,” and the “lady 
who makes decisions concerning (all) heaven and earth.” 

D. The Power IN THE Water: Creativity 

But the earth, so near to man, so varied and manifold in char- 
acteristics, is — as we have mentioned — ^not easily comprehended 
as an entity by the mind. It is too rich and diverse for any single 
concept to express fully. We have just described one of its basic 
aspects, the fertile soil, the active principle in birth and procreation. 
Mother Earth. But from the earth also come the life-giving sweet 
waters, the water in wells, in springs, in rivers; and in very early 
times these “waters which wander in the earth” seem to have been 
considered as part of its being, an aspect among many aspects un- 
der which it might be viewed. If so viewed, however, the power 
manifest in it was male, En-ki, “lord of the earth.” In historical 
times only Enid’s name and the role he plays in certain myths give 
any indication that he and the Sweetwater for which he stands were 
once merely an aspect of the earth as such. The waters and the 
power in them have emancipated themselves, have their own inde- 
pendent individuality and peculiar essence. The power which re- 
vealed itself to the Mesopotamian in his subjective experience of 
water was a creative power, a divine will to produce new life, new 
beings, new things. In this respect it was akin to the powers in the 
earth, in the fertile soil. And yet there was a difference — that be- 
tween passive and active. The Earth, Ki, Ninhursaga, or whatever 
else we may choose to call her, was immobile; hers is die passive 
productivity, fertility. Water, on the other hand, comes and goes. 
It flows out over the field, irrigating it; then it trickles away and is 
gone. It is as though it were possessed of will and purpose. It typi- 
fies active productivity, conscious thought, creativity. 

Moreover, the ways of water are devious. It avoids rather than 
surmounts obstacles, goes around and yet gets to its goal. The 
farmer, who works with it in irrigation, easing it along from canal 
to canal, knows how tricky it can be, how easily it slips away, 
takes unforeseen turns. And so, we may assume, the idea of cun- 
ning, of superior intelligence, came to be imparted to Enki. This 
aspect of his being would be further developed by contemplation 
of the dark, brooding, impenetrable waters of wells and lagoons. 



which suggested perhaps the more profound intellectual qualities, 
wisdom and knowledge. In the functioning of the universe the 
powers which are peculiarly Enki’s manifest themselves often and 
in many places. They are directly active in the roles played by 
water everywhere: when it falls from heaven as rain, when it 
comes flowing down in the rivers, when it is led through canals out 
over fields and orchards where it produces the crops of the coun- 
try and the prosperity of the people. But Enki’s essence is also 
manifest in all knowledge. It is the creative element in thought, 
whether it produces new effective patterns of action, such as wise 
counsel (Enki is the one who gives to rulers their broad intelli- 
gence and “opens the door of understanding”) or produces new 
things, as in the skill of the craftsman (Enki is the god of the 
craftsmen par excellence). Beyond all, however, his essence, his 
powers, show themselves in the powerful spells of the incantation 
priests. It is he who gives the powerful orders which constitute the 
priest’s spells, orders which will assuage angry forces or drive 
away evil demons that have attacked man. 

The range of the forces which are Enki’s, the place which they 
occupy in the organized universe, is expressed with great precision 
in the office which Enki holds in the world state. He is a nun, that 
is, a great nobleman of the realm outstanding by experience and 
wisdom — a councilor, not unlike the Anglo-Saxon witcm. But he 
is not a king, not a ruler in his own right. The position he holds in 
the world state he holds by appointment. His audiority derives from 
Anu and Enlil; he is their minister. In modem terms one might 
perhaps call him Secretary of Agriculture in the universe. He is 
charged with overseeing rivers, canals, and irrigation and of or- 
ganizing the productive forces of the country. He smooths out such 
difficulties as may arise by wise counsel, by arbitration, and by rec- 
onciliation. We may quote from a Sumerian hymn which de- 
scribes him and his office clearly and well: 

O Lord, who with thy wizard’s eyes, even when wrapped in thought, 
immobile, yet dost penetrate all things, 

O Enki, with thy limitless awareness, exalted counsel 
of the Anunnaki, 

Very knowing one, who dost exact obedience when turning his wit 
to conciliation and decision. 


Settling of legal strife; counselor 
from sunrise until sunset, 

O Enki, master over prudent words, to thee 
I will give praise. 

Anu thy father, pristine king and ruler 
over an inchoate world, 

Empowered thee, in heaven and on earth, to guide and form, 
exalted thee to lordship over them. 

To clear the pure mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, 
to make verdure plentiful, 

Make dense the clouds, grant water in abundance 
to all plowlands, 

To make corn lift its head in furrows and to make 
pasture abundant in the desert, 

To make young saplings in plantations and in orchards 
sprout, where planted like a forest — 

These acts did Anu, king of gods, entrust to thee; 

while Enlil granted thee his potent awesome name 

As ruler over all that has been bom 
thou art a younger Enlil, 

Younger brother of him, thou art, w^ho is sole god 
in heaven and on earth. 

To fix, like him, the fates of North and South 
he truly has empowered thee. 

When thy righteous decision and pronouncement cause 
deserted cities to be reinhabited, 

When, O Sahara, countless people have been settled 
throughout the country far and wide. 

Thou dost concern thee with their sustenance, 
a father, in truth, thou art to them. 

They praise the greatness of dieir Lord and God.^^ 


With Enki we may halt the detailed presentation of entities and 
powers in the Mesopotamian’s universe. The list is long; some are 
powers within things and phenomena in nature, others — at least 
to our way of thinking — represent abstract concepts. Each of them 
influenced the course of the world in one particular way, within 
one well-defined sphere of action. All derived their authority from 
some power higher up in that hierarchy of powers which constituted 
the universe. In some cases, as in that of Enki, it was the highest 
authority, Anu, or Enlil, who had conferred the office in question. 
Frequently, however, it was somebody lower down in the scale; 



for just as a human state embodies many different subsidiary power- 
structures at various levels — families, great estates, etc. — each with 
its own organization but all integrated with the larger strucrare of 
the state, so did the cosmic state. It, too, had such minor power- 
groups: divine families, divine households, divine estates with 
stewards, overseers, servants, and other attendants. 

But the basic lines of the view which the Mesopotamians took 
of their universe have, we hope, become clear. We may summarize 
as follows: The Mesopotamian universe did not, like ours, show a 
fundamental bipartition into animate and inanimate, living and 
dead, matter. Nor had it different levels of reality: anything that 
could be felt, experienced, or thought had thereby established its 
existence, was part of the cosmos. In the Mesopotamian universe, 
therefore, everything, whether living being, thing, or abstract con- 
cept — every stone, every tree, every notion — ^had a will and char- 
acter of its own. 

World order, the regularity and system observable in the uni- 
verse, could accordingly — in a universe made up exclusively of in- 
dividuals — be conceived of in only one fashion: as an order of 
wills. The universe as an organized whole was a society, a state. 

The form of state under which the Mesopotamians viewed the 
universe, furthermore, was that of Primitive Democracy, which 
seems to have been the form of state prevalent in the age when 
Mesopotamian civilization itself came into being 

In the Primitive Democracy of early Mesopotamia — as in the 
fully developed democracies of the classical world — ^participation 
in government belonged to a large parr of, but by no means to all, 
the members of the state. Slaves, children, and women, for in- 
stance, had no share in government in democratic Athens; neither 
had similar groups in the Mesopotamian city-states any voice in the 
popular assembly. Correspondingly, in the universal state there 
were many members who had no political influence, no share in its 
government. To these groups belonged, to mention one example, 
man. Man’s position in the state of the universe precisely paral- 
leled that of the slave in the human city-state. 

Political influence was wielded in the universe only by those 
members who, by virme of the power inherent in them, could be 
classed as gods. They alone were truly citizens in the political 


sense. We have mentioned a few of the most important: sky, 
storm, earth, water. Each god, furthermore, was seen as the ex- 
pression or manifestation of a will and power to be thus and act 
thus. Enlil, for instance, is the will and power to rage in a storm 
and also the will and power to destroy a populous city in an attack 
by barbaric mountaineers; both storm and destruction were seen 
as manifestations of one and the same essence. But the realization 
of these many wills does not produce anarchy or chaos. Each pow- 
er has limits within which it functions, task and office which it per- 
forms. Its will is integrated with those of other powers in the total 
pattern of conduct which makes the universe a structure, an organ- 
ized whole. 

The basic integration is traceable to Anu. The other powers vol- 
untarily adapt themselves to his authority. He gives to each its 
task and office in the world state; and so his will is the “founda- 
tion” of the universe, reflected throughout its structure. 

But, as any state must be, the Mesopotamian universe is dynam- 
ic, not static. Mere assignment of tasks and offices does not make 
a state. The state is, and functions through, the co-operation of the 
wills that hold the offices, in their readjustment to one another, in 
their alignment for concerted action in a given situation, in ques- 
tions of general concern. For such alignment of wills the Mesopo- 
tamian universe has a general assembly of all citizens. In this as- 
sembly Anu presides and directs proceedings. Questions are dis- 
cussed by the members pro and con until a consensus begins to 
stand out; the scales are weighted for it by assent from the seven 
most prominent gods, among them Anu and Enlil; and thus des- 
tinies, the great coming events, are shaped, are agreed to, are 
backed by the united wills of all the great powers of the universe, 
and are carried into effect by Enlil. Thus functions the universe. 


The philosophy which we have outlined, the apprehension of 
reality as a whole under the aspect of a state, originated, we have 
argued, with Mesopotamian civilization itself around the middle of 
the fourth millennium before our era. 

As a philosophy of existence as a whole, as the fundamental view 
of a civilization, this view must have had in large measure the 



character of an axiom. And just as the science of mathematics is 
very little concerned with its axioms because they are not prob- 
lems but the patent, the immediately obvious verities from which 
it starts out, so Mesopotamian thought of the third millennium 
takes no particular interest in its philosophic basis. We have — and 
that is undoubtedly more than an accident — no early Sumerian 
myth which sets as its theme the basic questions: Why is the uni- 
verse a state? How did it come to be one? Instead, we find the 
world state taken for granted. It forms the generally known and 
generally accepted background against which other stories are set 
and to which they have reference, but it is never the main theme. 
The main theme is some detail; some question about fitting one or 
a group of individual features into the over-all pattern is asked and 
answered by the myth. We are dealing with the products of an age 
which has solved the big questions, an age of interest in details. 
Only much later, when the “cosmic state” was perhaps not quite so 
self-evident, were the fundamental issues in that view of the world 
taken up for consideration. 

The questions which the prolific and varied mythological litera- 
ture of the third millennium posed and answered may be summed 
up, for the greater part, under three heads. There are, first, myths 
of origin which ask about the origin of some particular entity with- 
in the cosmos or some group of such entities: gods, plants, men. 
The answer given is usually in terms of birth, more rarely in terms 
of creation or craftsmanship. The second group consists of myths 
of organization. The myths of this group ask how some feature 
within, or some area of, the existing world order was brought 
about: how some god or other obtained his function and offices, 
how agriculture became organized, how certain freak classes of 
human beings came to be and were assigned their status. The 
myths answer: “By divine decree.” Lastly, in a sense a subgroup 
under the myths of organization, there myths of evaluation. The 
myths of this group ask by what right something or other holds 
its position in die world order. Such myths will weigh the farmer 
against the shepherd or, in a different approach to the same ques- 
tion, grain against wool; they will inquire into the relative merits 
of the costly gold and the lowly, but more useful, copper; etc. 
The evaluations implicit in the existing order are affirmed and 


traced to divine decision. We turn first to myths which deal with 
details of origins. 

A. Details of Origins 

We can comment upon only a few typical examples of stories 
dealing with origins and shall choose mostly such stories as we have 
already referred to while summing up the current types. 

“the myth of enlil and ninul”: the moon and his brothers 

“The Myth of Enlil and Ninlil” answers the question: How did 
the moon originate, and how did this bright celestial deity come to 
have three brothers, all connected with the nether world.? The 
myth takes us to the city of Nippur in central Babylonia, at the be- 
ginning of time, names the city by its time-honored names, Du- 
ranki and Durgishimmar, and identifies the river flowing by it, its 
quay, harbor, well, and canal, as the Idsalla, Kargeshtinna, Karu- 
sar, Pulal, and Nunbirdu, respectively, all localities in historical 
Nippur and well known to the listeners. Then the myth identifies 
the inhabitants of the city. They are the deities Enlil, Ninlil, and 

We are living in that very city, (in) Duranki, 

We are living in that very city, (in) Durgishimmar. 

This very river, the Idsalla, was its pure river, 

This very quay, the Kargeshtinna, was its quay. 

This very harbor, the Karusar, was its harbor. 

This very well, the Pulal, was its well of sweet water. 

This very canal, the Nunbirdu, was its sparkling canal. 

No less than ten iku each — ^if measured — were its tilled fields. 

And the young man therein was Enlil; 

And the young maiden therein was Ninlil; 

And the mother therein was Ninshebargunu.^® 

Ninshebargunu warns her young daughter about going to bathe 
alone in the canal; prying eyes might see her; a young man might 
violate her. 

In those days did the mother who had borne her instruct the young maiden, did 
Ninshebargunu instruct Ninlil: 

‘In the pure stream, O woman, in the pure stream do not bathe! 

In the pure stream, O Ninlil, in the pure stream, O woman, 
do not bathe! 



O Niniil, do not climb onto the bank of the canal Nunbirdu. 

With his shining eyes will the lord, with his shining eyes 
will he espy thee; 

With his shining eyes will he espy thee, the great mountain, 
father Enlil; 

With his shining eyes will espy thee, the ... . shepherd, the 
determiner of fates. 

Forthwith he will embrace thee, he will kiss thee!” 

But Ninlil is young and headstrong. 

Did she listen to the instructions which she gave her? 

In that very stream, the pure one, in that very stream, the pure one, 
does the (young) woman bathe. 

Onto the bank of the canal, the bank of Nunbirdu, does Ninlil climb. 

Everything goes as Ninshebargunn had feared. Enlil sees Ninlil, 
tries to seduce her, and, when she refuses, takes her by force. He 
leaves her pregnant with Sin, the moon-god. 

But EnliFs crime has not gone unnoticed. On his return to town, 
while he is walking across the square — thus we must visualize 
Kiur, the large open court in the temple — ^he is arrested and taken 
before the authorities. The assembly of the gods, the fifty great 
gods and the seven whose opinion carries special, decisive weight, 
condemns him to banishment from the city as guilty of rape. (The 
meaning of the word which we translate ‘‘ravisher” is somewhat 
more general: '^'^one who is under a taboo relating to matters of 

Enlil came walking into Kiur, 

And while Enlil was passing through Kiur 

The fifty great gods 

And the seven gods whose word is decisive 
caused Enlil to be arrested in Kiur; 

‘Tnlil, the ravisher, must leave the town; 

This ravisher Nunamnir, must leave town.” 

In compliance with the penalty which has been imposed upon 
him, Enlil then leaves Nippur and makes his way out of the land 
of the living toward the sinister realm of Hades. But Ninlil follows 
him. ^ 

Enlil, (in obedience) to the verdict which was given, 

Nunamnir, (in obedience) to the verdict which was given, went. 


Then Enlil, who is not willing to take her with him outright, 
begins to fear that other men on the road may misuse the unpro- 
tected girl as he himself has done. The first man he meets is the 
gatekeeper at the town gate. So Enlil stops, takes the place and 
assumes the likeness of the gatekeeper, and orders him not to say 
anything if Ninlil should ask. 

Enlil calls unto the gatekeeper: 

“0 man of the gate, O man of the bolt, 

O man of the lock, O man of the sacred bolt. 

Thy queen Ninlil is coming. 

If she asks thee about me. 

Do thou not tell her where I am.” 

Enlil called unto the gatekeeper: 

“O man of the gate, O man of the bolt, 

O man of the lock, O man of the sacred bolt. 

Thy queen Ninlil is coming. 

The maiden so sweet, so beautiful, 

Thou shalt, O man, not embrace, thou shalt, 

O man, not kiss! 
lb Ninlil, so sweet, so beautiful. 

Has Enlil shown favor; he has looked upon her 
with shining eyes.” 

Accordingly, when Ninlil arrives, she finds Enlil in his dis- 
guise. She does not recognize him but thinks he is the gatekeeper. 
He says that his king Enlil has recommended her to him, and she 
in rarn declares that, since Enhl is his king, she is his queen and 
that she carries Enlil’s child, Sin, the moon-god, under her heart. 
Enlil as tlie gatekeeper then pretends— this seems to be under- 
stood — to be profoundly perturbed at the thought that she is tak- 
ing with her to Hades the bright scion of his lord, and he proposes 
union with her to beget a son who may belong to Hades and take 
the place of his king’s son, the bright moon. 

Let the precious sdon of (my) king go to heaven; 
let my (own) son go to the nether world. 

Let my (own) son go to the nether world as (changeling for) 
the precious scion of (my) king. 

He then embraces Ninlil and again leaves her with child, the 
god Meslarataea (who we know was considered a brother of Sin, 
the moon) . Enhl then continues his way toward Hades, and NinUl 



takes up her pursuit. Two more times he stops, the first time when 
he comes to “the man of the river of Hades,” whom he similarly 
impersonates, engendering the god Ninazu, also a god of the under- 
world, and the second time when he comes to the ferryman at the 
river of Hades. In the ferryman’s guise he engenders a third god 
of the nether world, but, as the name of this god is damaged in 
the text, he cannot yet be identified. Here — ^very abruptly to our 
way of thinking — the story comes to a close with a short hymn of 
praise to Enlil and Ninlil, ending: 

Enlil is lord, Enlil is king. 

Enlil’s word cannot be altered; 

Enlil’s impetuous word cannot be changed. 

Praise be to mother Ninlil, 

Praise! (to) father Enlil. 

The story here told cannot, we think, be considered a pleasant 
one. Even though it is always extremely dangerous to apply one’s 
own moral standards to cultures and peoples so remote in time and 
in space, there seems to be a particularly unwholesome air around 
this tale and the way it is told. Yet, we must not forget two things. 
First, this story comes from a society in which woman’s honor 
was an unknown concept. Violation of an unmarried woman was 
an offense against her guardian; violation of a married woman was 
an offense against her husband; and both were offenses against so- 
ciety and its laws. In no case, however, were they offenses against 
the woman. She and her feelings simply did not count. For that 
reason there is a moral conflict involved when Enlil breaks the laws 
of society in raping Ninlil. In what happens to her after that, only 
Enlil’s honor could be injured; and he avoids that by his handling 
of the men she meets. Second, and far more important, we must 
make clear to ourselves that Ninlil, whose plight cannot help ap- 
pealing to us, and who seems a central character, holds almost no 
interest to the storyteller. His sole concern is with the children she 
is to bear— with the origin of the moon-god and his three divine 
brothers. Ninlil exists for him merely as the potential mother of 
these children, not as a human being interesting in herself. For 
that reason the story ends in a manner which seems to us abrupt. 
But for the storyteller there was nothing of interest to relate after 


the last divine child was in existence. It is only we who wonder 
about what further happened between Ninlil and Enlil and should 
like to be told that Ninlil was finally accepted by Enlil as his wife. 

It is from the point of view of the children, then, that the myth 
is to be understood and interpreted. Why does the bright celestial 
moon-god come to have three brothers, all powers of the lower, 
infernal regions? Why does Enlil, the storm, a cosmic force which 
belongs to the world above, have children who belong to the 
nether world? The myth answers in psychological terras. It seeks 
the cause in Enlil’s own nature with its curiously dark and violent 
strains. It is this element of wildness and violence which makes 
him break the laws and taboos of society, of the world above, 
when he takes Ninlil by force and Sin is engendered. The conse- 
quences are banishment, imposed by the forces which uphold that 
world and its fundamental order, by the assembly of the gods. 

Enlil’s later children are engendered after he has been put be- 
yond the pale of the world of light, when he is on his way to Hades 
and under its sinister shadow. Therefore, the children he now en- 
genders belong in Hades, and their infernal affinities are confirmed 
by the words Enlil speaks to induce Ninlil to unite with him. For 
such is the power of Enlil’s word that it is binding, that it comes 
true however and whenever it is spoken. Therefore, and very 
aptly, the myth ends in a paean to Enlil’s word which cannot be 
altered, cannot be changed. 

The immediate answer to the question of the myth: “Why are 
Enlil’s children so different?” is thus, “Because Enlil so decreed!” 
But the myth, in giving that answer, is not yet satisfied. It probes 
behind the immediate answer: tells of the events and of the situa- 
tion which caused Enlil to speak as he did. And it shows that these 
events were in no sense accidental but were precipitated by a fun- 
damental contrast in Enlil’s own nature. Background for the 
myth is the view of the universe as a state. Enlil, Ninlil, Sin, and 
all the other characters in the story are forces in nature. But, since 
the mythmaker sees these forces as “Thou’s,” as members of a soci- 
ety, his endeavor is to understand them through psychological 
analysis of their character and through their corresponding reaction 
to the laws which govern the state of the universe. 




An origin myth of a different character, and in a sense far less so- 
phisticated, is the Tilmun myth.^* 

The myth of Enlil and Ninlil was concerned with a single, seem- 
ingly anomalous fact: the difference in character of the sons of 
Enlil. It traced their origin to find that difference ultimately 
grounded in contrasts within Enlil’s own nature. The Tilmun 
myth is not in that sense wrestling with a problem. It endeavors to 
trace a causal unity between a great many disparate phenomena 
and shows their common origin in a conflict of two natures, male 
and female. It tells the story of a battle of wills in their mutual at- 
traction and mutual antagonism, of constant Mother Earth, Nin- 
hursaga, and Enki, god of the fickle waters. 

The story opens in the island of Tilmun — ^modern Bahrein in the 
Persian Gulf. This island was allotted to Enki and Ninhursaga 
when the world was divided among the gods. After Enki, at Nin- 
hursaga’s suggestion, has provided the island with fresh water, he 
proposes to her, and, though she at first refuses, she finally ac- 
cepts him. Their daughter is the goddess Ninsar, the plants, born 
of the marriage of soil, Ninhursaga, and water, Enki. But, as the 
waters of the yearly inundation in Mesopotamia recede and return 
to the river b^ before vegetation comes up, so Enki does not stay 
to live with Ninhursaga as her husband but has already left her be- 
fore the goddess of the plants is bom. And, as vegetation in the 
late spring clusters around the rivers, so Ninsar comes to the 
river’s edge where Enki is. But Enki sees in the goddess of the 
plants just another young girl. He unites with her, but he does not 
go to live with her. The goddess of the plants gives birth to a 
daughter representing — ^we would guess — the plant fibers used in 
the weaving of linen. Such fibers are obtained by soaking plants in 
water until the soft matter rots away and only the tough fibers 
remain. They are, therefore, in a sense the child of plants and 
water. Then the story repeats itself; the goddess of the dyestuff, 
with which cloth is dyed, is bom, and she in turn gives birth to the 
goddess of cloth and weaving, Uttu. By now, however, Ninhur- 
saga has realized how fickle Enki is and puts Uttu on her guard. 


Forewarned, Uttu insists on marriage: Enki must bring gifts of 
cucumbers, apples, and grapes — apparently to serve as the custo- 
mary marriagergift — and only then will she be his. Enki complies 
and when, as a regular suitor, he presents himself at the house with 
the gifts, Uttu joyfully lets him in. The wine which he gives her 
makes Uttu intoxicated, and he takes his pleasure of her. A 
lacuna interrupts the story at this point and obscures the course of 
events. Eight plants have sprouted forth, and Ninhursaga has not 
yet announced what their names, nature, and qualities shall be. 
Then she suddenly discovers that Enki has already determined all 
this on his own and has eaten the plants. At this final slight, 
Ninhursaga is seized with a burning hatred, and she curses the god 
of the waters. At her terrible curse — which apparently typifies the 
banning of the fresh waters to darkness underground and to slow 
death when wells and rivers dry up in the summer season — all the 
gods are thoroughly disturbed. But the fox appears and promises to 
bring Ninhursaga to them. It makes good its promise. Ninhursaga 
comes, relents, and finally heals the sick Enki by helping to 
give birth to eight deities, one for each ailing part of his body. 
It has been suggested that these deities are the plants which 
Enki had swallowed and which had thus become lodged in his 
body. The myth ends with the assigning of stations in life to these 

As we have stated, this myth endeavors to trace a causal unity 
among many disparate phenomena; but it is a unity causal in the 
mythopoeic sense only. When plants are seen as bom of soil and 
water, we can still follow, although with reservations. Toward the 
end of the myth, however, the deities bom that Enki may be healed 
have no intrinsic connection either with soil, who bears them, or 
with water. Their names, however, happen to contain elements 
which recall the words for certain parts of the body, those parts of 
Enki’s body which are healed. For instance, the deity A-zi-mut-aj 
whose name can be understood as “the growing straight of the 
arm,” was bom to heal Enki’s arm. And here is the connection. 
Wfe must remember that in mythopoeic thought a name is a force 
within the person propelling him in a certain direction. Since the 
name J-zi-mUi-a cm be understood as meaning “the growing 
straight of the arm,” though this deity— as far as we know — had 



nothing to do with arms, the question could not but present itself: 
‘Whose arm did this deity cause to grow straight?” The myth is 
ready with an answer: “Enki’s.” It is here satisfied with estab- 
lishing a connection; it does not probe for a deeper relationship 
of nature between the two forces, the two gods, involved. 

Seen on its own terms, however, and viewed with mythopoeic 
logic, the myth greatly deepens our understanding of two great 
forces in the universe, earth and water; for in the Mesopotamian 
universe understanding means psychological insight. In the myth 
we get to know the deep antithesis which underlies the fruitful in- 
terplay of these forces in nature; we follow it as it rises to its 
climax in an open break threatening to destroy water forever; and 
we end on a note of relief with reconciliation, with restoration of 
harmony in the universe. We also learn, in following the interac- 
tion of these forces, their importance as sources of life: From them 
come plants, from them come weaving and clothing, to them are 
due numerous potent and beneficial forces in life — ^numerous minor 
gods. An area of the universe has become intelligible. 

Before we leave this myth, we should call attention to an inter- 
esting bit of speculation which it contains, to the picture it gives 
of the world when it was young. The definite and identifiable 
character of things in the world came late. In the dawn of time the 
world was as yet only a world of promise, a world in the bud, not 
settled in definite form. Neither animals nor men had yet acquired 
their habits and characteristics; they had not yet their defining 
traits. They were only potentially what they now are. The raven 
did not yet croak; the lion did not kill; the wolf did not snatch 
lambs. Disease and old age had as yet no existence as such, had not 
acquired their recognizable symptoms and characteristics, and 
could therefore not identify themselves as “disease” and “old age,” 
definite forms which they were only later to assume. 

The first lines of the opening section of the myth are addressed 
directly to Enki and Ninhursaga; these deities are the “you” of the 
text. Then the story lapses into ordinary narrative style: 

When you were dividing the virgin earth (with your fellow-gods) 

—you — the land of Tilmun was a region pure; 

When you were dividing the pure earth (with your fellow-gods) — 
you — ^the land of Tilmun was a region pure. 


The land of Tilmian was pure, the land of Tiimim was fresh, 

The land of Tilmnn was fresh, the land of Tilmun was bright. 
When they lay down on the ground all alone in Tilmun — 

Since the place where Enlci lay down with his spouse 

was a fresh place, a bright place 

When they lay down on the ground all alone in Tilmun — 

Since the place where Enki lay down with his spouse 
was a fresh place, a bright place — 

The raven in Tilmun did not croak (as the raven does nowadays), 
The cock(?) did not utter the crow of a cock (as the cock does 

The lion did not kill. 

The wolf did not seize Iambs, 

The dog knew not (how) to make the kids crouch down, 

The donkey foal knew not (how) to eat grain, 

Eye disease did not say, “I, eye disease,” 

Headache did not say, ‘1, headache,” 

The old woman there did not say, “I, old woman,” 

The old man there did not say, “I, old man,” .... 

B. Details of World Order 

Of the next group of myths, those which deal with the establish- 
ment of some facet of world order rather than with the origins of 
things and forces as such, we shall give only two examples. The 
first of these is a myth, unfortunately in a rather damaged condi- 
tion, which tells how the natural economy of Mesopotamia became 


The beginning of this myth, now lost, probably related how Anu 
and Enlil appointed Enki. Where the text becomes readable, Enki is 
making a tour of inspection in his territory, which includes most of 
the world as then known, and visiting the larger administrative 
units in it. 

Enki stops in each country, blesses it, and by his blessing en- 
dows it with prosperity and affirms its special functions. Next he 
organizes all the bodies of water and what has to do with water. 
He fills the rivers Euphrates and Tigris with clear water and ap- 
points a god to oversee them. Then he fills them with fish and 
sets out canebrakes. To care for these, he appoints another divine 
overseer. Then he regulates the sea and appoints a divine 



overseer who is to run it. From the sea Enki turns to the winds 
which bring the rains and then to agricultural pursuits. He looks 
after the plow, opens up the furrows, and lets grain grow on the 
field. He also ranges granaries side by side. From the fields he 
moves on to town and village, appoints the brick-god to take care 
of brickmaking; he lays foundations, builds walls, and appoints the 
divine master-builder, Mushdama, as overseer of such works. 
Finally, he organizes the wild life of the desert under the god Su- 
mukan, while he builds pens and sheepfolds for the tame animals, 
placing the latter in charge of the shepherd-god Dumuzi or Tam- 
muz. Enki has instituted every important function in the economic 
life of Mesopotamia; he has set it going; and he has appointed a 
divine overseer to keep it going. Order in nature is seen and inter- 
preted exactly as if the universe were a large, smoothly nioning 
estate organized by a capable manager. 


The order of the universe, patent and obvious to the human 
mind and generally admirable as well, is, nevertheless, not always 
and in every detail the order man would have preferred. Even the 
optimistic Alexander Pope, as the reader will recall, thought he 
could go no further in his praise than to call this “the best possible 
world,” which is obviously a far cryTrom calling it “the ideal 
world.” The ancient Mesopotamians likewise found things in the 
world which they considered unfortunate, or at least queer; and it 
puzzled them that the gods had arranged it that way. Problems of 
this kind are dealt with in the myth which we shall now consider. 
It offers an answer well in keeping with the Mesopotamians’ so- 
cial and psychological approach to forces in the universe: the gods, 
for all their power, have their human sides. Their emotions, espe- 
cially after too much beer, are likely to get the better of their 
judgment; and, when that happens, they are in danger of being 
tripped up by their own power, by the binding force of their own 

The myth deals — as do so many Sumerian tales — with Enki, the 
god of the sweet waters, and Ninhursaga, the goddess of the earth. 
In this myth she is called by her epithet Ninmah, “the exalted 


lady,” and we shall keep this name in recounting the story. We be- 
gin once more in the days when the world was young: 

In the days of yore, the days when sky had been 
separated from earth, 

In the nights of yore, the nights when sky had been 
separated from earth. 

In those remote times the gods themselves had to work for a living. 
All the gods had to use the sickle, the pickax, and the other agricul- 
tural implements; to dig canals; and generally to earn their bread 
by the sweat of their brows. And they hated it. The very wise one, 
he of broad understanding, Enki, lay in deep slumber upon his 
couch without ever rising from it. To him the gods turned in their 
misery; and his mother Nammu, the goddess of die watery deep, 
took their complaints before her sleeping son. Nor did she go in 
vain. Enki ordered Nammu to get all in readiness to give birth to 
“the clay that is above the apsu.” (“Above the apsu” means below 
the earth but above the watery deep which lies under the earth and 
is more or less identical with the goddess Nammu herself.) This 
clay was to be severed from Nammu as one severs a human infant 
from its mother. The goddess Ninmah, the earth, was to stand 
above her — the earth is, of course, above the subterranean waters 
— and help her when she gave birth, and eight other goddesses 
were to assist. 

In this fashion, we must assume, the clay above the apsu was 
bom, and from it man was fashioned. However, a serious gap in the 
text interrupts the story at this point and prevents us from knowing 
with certainty how mankind came into being. When the text again 
becomes readable, Enki is preparing a feast for Ninmah and for his 
mother, presumably to celebrate her delivery. All the great gods 
are invited, and all praise Enki highly for his cleverness; but, as the 
party gets under way, Ninmah strikes a sour note: 

As Enki and Ninmah drink much beer, their hearts become elated, 
and Ninmah calls over to Enki: 

‘‘How good or how bad is man's body (really) ? 

As my heart prompts me, I can make its lot good or (make it) bad.” 

Enki is not slow to accept the challenge: “The lot thou hast in 
mind, be it good or bad, verily I will balance(?) it.” 



So Ninmah takes of the clay above the apsu and models it into a 
freak human being, one with some bodily defect; a man who can- 
not hold back his urine, a woman who is unable to bear children, 
a being who has neither male nor female organs. All in all, six such 
beings take form under her fingers; but for every one of them Enki 
is ready with a special lot or fate. He finds a place in society for 
all of them, a way in which they can gain a living. The being with 
neither male nor female organs, presumably a eunuch, Enki destines 
to wait on the king, the barren woman is placed among the ladies- 
in-waiting to the queen, etc. There can be little doubt that these 
six freaks formed by Ninmah correspond to definite classes of per- 
sons in Sumerian society who, for one reason or another, differed 
bodily from normal human beings and therefore posed a problem. 

But now the contest is on in earnest. Enki has shown that his 
perspicuity is a match for even the worst Ninmah can think up. 
Now he proposes that they change sides. He will make freaks, and 
she shall figure out what to do with them. And so Enki sets to 
work. We do not know about his first effort, for the text of the 
myth is damaged at this place; but we hear about the second, a 
being by the name of Ui-mu-ul, “my day is remote” — that is, a 
very old man whose birthday lies far back in the past. The eyes of 
this unfortunate are diseased, his life is ebbing, his liver and heart 
give him pain, his hands tremble — to mention just a few of the 
things wrong with him. This creature Enki presents to Ninmah. 

Enki calls over to Ninmah: 

I determined the lot for the men thou didst fashion, 
whereby they might subsist. 

Do thou now determine a lot for the man I have fashioned, 
whereby he may subsist. 

This, however, is entirely beyond Ninmah. She approaches the 
creature and puts a question to him, but he eannot answer; she 
proffers him a piece of bread she has been eating, but he is too 
feeble to stretch out his arm to take it; etc. Angrily she upbraids 
Enki : the creature he has fashioned is not a live man. But Enki only 
tauntingly reminds her how he was able to cope with anything she 
could think up and find ways for her creatures to make a living. 

Another break in the textprevents us from following the details 
of their quarrel. When the text again is preserved, the quarrel has 


reached its climax. Through the second of the two creatures which 
Enki created, he brought into the world sickness and all the other 
miseries attendant upon old age. Undoubtedly his first creamre, 
whose description is lost in a lacuna, carried a similar load of hu- 
man evils. With neither of them could Ninmah cope. She was un- 
able to integrate them with the world order, unable to find a use- 
ful place for them in society. But they are here to stay, an unmiti- 
gated evil. It is possible that it was the effect of these creatures 
alone (of old age and of the earlier, as yet unknown, evils) on 
Ninmah’s land and city that drove her to desperation; it is also 
possible that she suffered still further humiliations at Enki’s hand. 
She complains: 

My city is destroyed, my house is wrecked, my children 
have been taken captive. 

I have been forced to leave Ekur, a fugitivef?); even 
I escape not from thy hand. 

So she curses him: “Henceforth thou shalt not dwell in heaven, thou 
shalt not dwell on earth.” This confines the god of the sweet waters 
to the dark regions below the earth. The curse is reminiscent of 
another which she pronounced upon Enki in the Tilmun myth and 
is seemingly intended to explain the same puzzling feature of the 
universe: Why are the beneficent sweet waters banned to live in 
eternal darkness below the earth? For that is where one finds them 
if one digs deep enough. Enki can do nothing once the curse has 
been uttered, for it has behind it all the decisive force inherent in 
a command of one of the great gods. He answers Ninmah: “A 
command issuing from thy mouth, who could change it?” 

Nevertheless, it seems possible that this frightening sentence 
was somehow alleviated and that, as in the Tilmun myth, a recon- 
ciliation was brought about. The text of the myth becomes ex- 
tremely fragmentary and difficult at this point, so we cannot tell for 
certain. However, the very fact that the myth does go on at some 
length shows that Ninmah’s curse was not the final and decisive re- 
sult of the conflict. 

The myth which we have here retold undertakes to explain a 
number of puzzling features in the world order: the curious ab- 
normal groups — eunuchs, hierodules, etc. — ^which formed part of 
Mesopotamian society; the unpleasant, seemingly unnecessary 



evils which accompany old age; etc. In rendering its account, how- 
ever, the myth not only explains; it passes judgment. These fea- 
tures do not really belong in the world order; they were not part 
of the plan. They came in in a moment of irresponsibility, when 
the gods were in their cups and succumbed momentarily to envy 
and a desire to show off. Moreover, the myth analyzes and evalu- 
ates the various features differently. While the freaks which Nin- 
mah made were comparatively harmless and could still be inte- 
grated with the social order by the clever Enki, there was no hope 
whatever when Enki turned his nimble brain to mischief. 

In this implicit evaluation of the features whose origin it de- 
scribes, our myth forms a connecting link, as it were, with the 
third large group of myths: that which takes as its main theme the 
evaluation of features in the world order. 

C. Details of Evaluation 

Some of the myths within this group take almost the same form 
as hymns of praise. They are concerned with a single element in 
the universe — a deity, an object, or whatever it may be— and ex- 
tol its qualities in a minute analysis of all its features. Such a 
myth, for instance, is the “Myth of the Pickax,” which tells how 
Enlil made that indispensable implement and explains its qualities and 
uses. Other myths within the group, however, are concerned with 
two entities of the universe, balancing one against the other in a 
reasoned effort to understand and justify their relative positions in 
the existing order. These myths frequently take the form of a dis- 
pute between the two elements involved, each extolling its own 
virtues until the dispute is adjudicated by some god. A single pas- 
sage may serve as illustration. It comes from a myth in which cop- 
per, useful but less highly valued, disputes with silver the latter’s 
right to stand in a place of honor as courtier in the royal palace. The 
copper argues the “uselessness” of silver: 

When the cold weather has set in, you cannot provide an adz 
which can cut firewood (?); 

When harvest time has come, you cannot provide a sickle which 
can cut the grain. 

Therefore man will take no interest in thee, . . . 

In a country like Mesopotamia, in which the chief industries 
were sheepherding and farming, it is only natural that these two 


modes of life should form favorite subjects of comparison and 
evaluation. Which is the better, the more important, the more use- 
ful? We possess no less than three myths which take up this theme. 
One tells the origin of “sheep” and “grain” from the very begin- 
ning, when the gods alone enjoyed them, and goes on to recount 
a long dispute which they had as to which should take precedence 
over the other. Another myth relates the dispute between two di- 
vine brothers, Enten and Emesh, sons of Enlil, one seemingly 
typifying the farmer, the other the shepherd. Their quarrel is set- 
tled by Enlil in favor of the farmer. The liveliest treatment of the 
theme, however, is given in a myth entitled “The Wooing of In- 

“the wooing of inanna”: relative merits of shepherd and farmer^® 

This myth tells how both the divine farmer Enkimdu and the 
divine shepherd Dumuzi sued for the hand of the goddess Inanna, 
who is here seen not as the spouse of Anu and queen of heaven but 
merely as a young marriageable girl. Her brother and guardian, the 
sun-god Utu, is in favor of the shepherd and tries to influence his 

Her brother, the warrior, the hero, Utu, 
says to holy Inanna: 

“The shepherd ought to marry thee, my sister. 

Why, O maiden Inanna, art thou not willing? 

His butter is good, his milk is good; 

All the shepherd’s products are splendid. 

Dumuzi ought to marry thee, Inanna.” 

But the brother's words fall on deaf ears. Inanna has made up her 
mind; she wants a farmer: 

Never shall the shepherd marry me; 

Never shall he drape me in his tufted cloth; 

Never shall his finest wool touch me. 

Me, the maiden, shall the farmer, 

And he only, take in marriage — 

The farmer who can grow beans, 

The farmer who can grow grain. 

So the farmer it is, and the poor shepherd feels despondent. He 
has not only lost his suit; he has been rejected in favor of a farmer, 
and that wounds his pride deeply. So he begins to compare himself 



with the farmer. For everything the farmer makes, the shepherd 
finds some of his own products which wiil match the farmer’s in 

In what does the farmer surpass me? A farmer me! A farmer me! 

In what does the farmer, does Enkimdu, the man of dike and canal 
.... surpass me? 

If he should give me his black doth, I would give the farmer 
my black wool for it; 

If he should give me his white cloth, I would give the farmer 
my white wool for it. 

If he should pour out for me his prime beer, I would pour out for the 
farmer my yellow milk in return. 

The myth continues through all the products of grassland and farm, 
milk as a match for beer , small cheeses as a match for beans, cottage 
cheese with honey as a match for bread. And then, the shepherd 
feels, he would even have a surplus of butter and milk. 

The situation which the shepherd here imagines is a typically 
oriental contest of gifts. He who gives most is the better man; he 
owes the other nothing, the other is in his debt. And so, as the shep- 
herd proceeds with his soliloquy, he feels better and better and 
gets in really high spirits. Brazenly, he drives his sheep to the very 
bank of the river into the heart of the cultivation. There suddenly 
he sees the farmer and Inanna and, abashed at what he has been 
doing, immediately takes to his heels to escape into the desert. 
Both Enkimdu and Inanna run after him, and — if we interpret the 
text rightly — Inanna calls out to him: 

Why must I race with thee^ O shepherd, I with thee, 
shepherd, with thee? 

Thy sheep are free to eat grass on the bank; 

Thy sheep are free to pasture{?) in my stubble(?) field. 

They may eat grain in the fields of Uruk; 

Thy lambs and kids may drink water in my Adab canal. 

Though she prefers a fanner for a husband, she harbors no ill feel- 
ings toward the shepherd: 

While thou, a shepherd, canst not — ^just to become my husband — 
be turned into a farmer, (the kind of man) I befriend, 

Canst not be turned into my friend, the farmer Enkimdu, into my 
■Triend thefarmer, ■ 

I will bring thee wheat, I will bring thee beans, . . . . 


And so the story ends with a reconciliation. It has compared 
farmer and shepherd; it has by implication given preference to the 
farmer, for it is he whom the goddess marries. However, it is at 
pains to show that putting the farmer ahead of the shepherd is real- 
ly a matter of personal preference only, the whim of a young girl. 
Actually one is as good as the other, both are equally useful and 
necessary members of society; the produce of one balances that 
of the other. Though there is rivalry between them, there should 
not be enmity. The farmer must know that Inanna liked the shep- 
herd well enough to throw open the stubble fields to his flocks and 
permit him to water his sheep at the farmer’s canals. Farmer and 
shepherd must try to get along well together. 

With this we may conclude our survey of the older mythological 
material from Mesopotamia. The bulk of this material is known to 
us from copies written at the end of the third and the early part of 
the second millenniums b.c. But the myths themselves are undoubt- 
edly much older. They show clearly for what they are: answers to 
questions of detail. They treat such varied problems as the origin, 
the place, and the relative value of all kinds of specific entities or 
groups of entities within the cosmos. They are one, however, in 
the underlying view which they take of the world. Their cosmos 
is a state, an organization of individuals. And the myths are one 
also in the approach which they take to the problems. It is a psy- 
chological approach: the key to understanding the forces which one 
meets in nature is felt to lie in the understanding of their characters, 
exactly as the key to understanding men lies in understanding their 


“enuma elish” 

But though the view of the universe as a state thus underlies all 
these tales — or precisely because it underlies them, is the very 
soil from which they grow — there is little effort to present that 
view as a whole. A proper cosmogony treating of the fundamental 
problems of the cosmos as it appeared to the Mesopotamians — its 
origin and the origin of the order which it exhibits — does not ap- 
pear until the earlier half of the second millennium b.c. Then it is 



given in a grandiose composition named Enuma elish, “When 
Above.”^® Enuma elish has a long and complicated history. It is 
written in Akkadian, seemingly Akkadian of approximately the 
middle of the second millennium b.c. At that period, then, the com- 
position presumably received the form in which we now have it. 
Its central figure is Marduk, the god of Babylon, in keeping with 
the fact that Babylon was at that time the political and cultural cen- 
ter of the Mesopotamian world. When later on, in the first mil- 
lennium B.C., Assyria rose to become the dominant power in the 
Near East, Assyrian scribes apparently replaced Marduk with 
their own god Assur and made a few changes to make the story fit 
its new hero. This later version is known to us from copies of the 
myth found in Assyria. 

The substitution of Assur for Marduk as the hero and central 
figure of the story seems to have been neither the only nor the 
first such substitution made. Behind our present version with Mar- 
duk as the hero undoubtedly lies a still earlier version wherein, not 
Marduk, but Enlil of Nippur played the central role. This more orig- 
inal form can be deduced from many indications in the myth itself. 
The most important of these is the fact that Enlil, although he was 
always at least the second most important Mesopotamian deity, 
seems to play no part whatever in the myth as we have it, while all 
the other important gods have appropriate roles. Again, the role 
which Marduk plays is not in keeping with the character of that 
god. Marduk was originally an agricultural or perhaps a solar deity, 
whereas the central role in Enuma elish is that of a god of the storm 
such as Enlil was. Indeed, a central feat ascribed to Marduk in the 
story — the separating of heaven and earth — is the very feat which 
other mythological material assigns to Enlil, and with right, for 
it is the wind which, placed between the sky and the earth, holds 
them apart like the two sides of an inflated leather bag. It seems, 
therefore, that Enlil was the original hero of the story and was re- 
placed by Marduk when our earliest known version was com- 
posed around the middle of the second millennium b.c. How far 
the myth itself goes back, we cannot say with certainty. It contains 
material and reflects ideas which point backward through the third 
millennium b.c. 


A. Fundamentals of Origin 

We may now turn to the content of the myth. It falls roughly 
into two sections, one dealing with the origin of the basic features 
of the universe, the other telling how the present world order was 
established. There is, however, no rigid separation of these two 
themes. The actions of the second part of tlie myth are foreshad- 
owed in, and interlock with, the events told in the first. 

The poem begins with a description of the universe as it was in 
the beginning: 

When a sky above had not (yet even) been mentioned 
(And) the name of firm ground below had not (yet even) been 
thought of; 

(When) only primeval Apsu, their begetter. 

And Mummu and TPamat — she who gave birth to them all — 

Were mingling their waters in one; 

When no bog had formed (and) no island could be found; 

When no god whosoever had appeared, 

Had been named by name, had been determined as to (his) lot, 

Then were gods formed within them.®^ 

This description presents the earliest stage of the universe as 
one of watery chaos. The chaos consisted of three intermingled 
elements: Apsu, who represents the sweet waters; Ti^amat, who 
represents the sea; and Mummu, who cannot as yet be identified 
with certainty but may represent cloud banks and mist. These 
three types of water were mingled in a large undefined mass. 
There was not yet even the idea of a sky above or firm ground be- 
neath; all was water; not even a swampy bog had been formed, 
still less an island; and there were yet no gods. 

Then, in the midst of this watery chaos, two gods come into ex- 
istence: Lahmu and Lahamu. The text clearly intends us to under- 
stand that they were begotten by Apsu, the sweet waters, and 
bom of Ti^amat, the sea. They represent, it would seem, silt which 
had formed in the waters. From Lahmu and Lahamu derive the 
next divine pair: Anshar and Kishar, two aspects of “the horizon.” 
The mythmaker apparently viewed the horizon as both male and 
female, as a circle (male) which circumscribed the sky and as a 
circle (female) which circumscribed the earth. 

Anshar and Kishar give birth to Anu, the god of the sky; and 



Anu engenders Nudimmut. Nudimmut is another name for Ea or 
Enki, the god of the sweet waters. Here, however, he is apparently 
to be viewed in his oldest aspect as representing the earth itself; he 
is En-ki, “lord of the earth.” Anshar is said to have made Ann like 
himself, for the sky resembles the horizon in so far as it, too, is 
round. And Anu is said to have made Nudimmut, the earth, in his 
likeness; for the earth was, in the opinion of the Mesopotamians, 
shaped like a disk or even like a round bowl: 

Lahmu and Lahamu appeared and they were named; 

Increasing through the ages they grew tall. 

Anshar and Kishar (then) were formed, surpassing them; 

They lived for many days, adding year unto year. 

Their son was Anu, equal to his fathers. 

Anshar made his firstborn, Anu, to his own likeness, 

Anu, to his own likeness also, Nudimmut. 

Nudimmut excelled among the gods, his fathers; 

With ears wide open, wise, mighty in strength, 

Mightier than his father’s father Anshar, 

He had no equal among his fellow-gods. 

The speculations which here meet us, speculations by which the 
ancient Mesopotamians thought to penetrate the mystery conceal- 
ing the origin of the universe, are obviously based upon observa- 
tion of the way in which new land is actually formed in Mesopo- 
tamia. Mesopotamia is an alluvial country. It has been built 
through thousands of years by silt which has been brought down 
by the two great rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris, and has been 
deposited at their mouths. This process still goes on; and day by 
day, year by year, the country slowly grows, extending farther out 
into the Persian Gulf. It is this scene — ^where the sweet waters of 
the rivers meet and blend with the salt waters of the sea, while 
cloud banks hang low over the waters — ^which has been projected 
back into the beginning of time. Here still is the primeval watery 
chaos in which Apsu, the sweet waters, mingles with Ti^amat, the 
salt waters of the sea; and here the silt —represented by the first of 
the gods, Lahmu and Lahamu — separates from the water, becomes 
noticeable, is deposited. 

Lahmu and Lahamu gave birth to Anshar and Kishar; that is, 
the primeval silt, born of the salt and the sweet waters in the orig- 
inal watery chaos, was deposited along its circumference in a gi- 


gantic ring: the horizon. From Anshar, the upper side of this ring, 
and from Klishar, its lower side, grew up through days and years of 
deposits Anu, heaven, and Nudimmut-Enki, earth. As Enuma elish 
describes this, Anu, the sky, was formed first; and he engendered 
Nudimmut, the earth. 

This presentation breaks the progression by pairs — Lahmu- 
Lahamu, Anshar-Kishar — after which we expect a third pair An- 
Ki, “heaven and earth”; instead, we get Anu followed by Nudim- 
mut. This irregularity suggests that we are here dealing with an al- 
teration of the original story perhaps made by the redactor who in- 
troduced Marduk of Babylon as hero of the myth. He may have 
wanted to stress the male aspect of the earth, Ea/Enki, since the 
latter figured as father of Marduk in Babylonian theology. Orig- 
inally, therefore, Anshar-Kishar may have been followed by An- 
Ki, “heaven and earth.” This conjecture is supported by a variant 
of our story preserved in the great ancient Mesopotamian list of 
gods known as the An-Anum list. Here we find an earlier, more in- 
tact version of the speculation: from the horizon, from Anshar and 
Kishar as a united pair, grew the sky and the earth. Sky and earth 
are apparently to be viewed as two enormous disks formed from 
the silt which continued to be deposited along the inside of the ring 
of the horizon as the latter “lived many days, added year unto 
year.” Later on, these disks were forced apart by the wind, who 
puffed them up into the great bag within which we live, its under 
side being the earth, its upper side the sky. 

In speculating about the origin of the world, the Mesopotamians 
tihus took as their point of departure things they knew and could 
observe in the geology of their own country. Their earth, Meso- 
potamia, is formed by silt deposited where fresh water meets salt 
water; the sky, seemingly formed of solid matter like the earth, 
must have been deposited in the same manner and must have been 
raised later to its present lofty position. 

B. Fundamentals of World Order 

Just as observed facts about the physical origin of his own 
country form the basis for the Mesopotamian’s speculations about 
the origin of the basic fearares in the universe, so, it would seem, 
does a certain amount of knowledge about the origin of his own 



political organization govern his speculations as to the origin of the 
organization of the universe. The origin of the world order is seen 
in a prolonged conflict between two principles, the forces making 
for activity and the forces making for inactivity. In this conflict the 
first victory over inactivity is gained by authority alone; the second, 
the decisive victory, by authority combined with force. The transi- 
tion mirrors, on the one hand, a historical development from primi- 
tive social organization, in which only custom and authority un- 
backed by force are available to insure concerted action by the 
community, to the organization of a real state, in which the ruler 
commands both authority and force to insure necessary concerted 
action. On the other hand, it reflects the normal procedure within 
the organized state, for here also authority alone is the means 
brought to bear first, while force, physical compulsion, is only re- 
sorted to if authority is not sufficient to produce the conduct de- 

To return to Enuma elish: With the birth of the gods from chaos, 
a new principle — ^movement, activity — has come into the world. 
The new beings contrast sharply with the forces of chaos that 
stand for rest and inactivity. In a typically mythopoeic manner 
this ideal conflict of activity and inactivity is given concrete form 
in a pregnant situation: the gods come together to dance. 

The divine companions thronged together 
and, restlessly surging back and forth, they dis- 
turbed Ti^amat, 
disturbed Ti^amat’s belly, 

dancing within (her depth) where heaven is founded. 

Apsu could not subdue their clamor, 
and Ti^amat was silent .... 
but their actions were abhorrent to her 
and their ways not good 

The conflict is now manifest. The first power of chaos to come out 
openly against the gods and their new ways is Apsu. 

Then Apsu, the begetter of the great gods, 
called his servant Mummu, saying to him: 

^^Mummu, my servant, who dost gladden my heart, 
come let us go to Ti^amat.” 

about the gods their firstborn they took counsel. 


Apsu began to speak, 
saying to pure Ti^amat: 

^^\bhorrent have become their ways to me, 

I am allowed no rest by day, by night no sleep. 

I will abolish, yea, I will destroy their ways, 
that peace may reign (again) and we may sleep.” 

This news causes consternation among the gods. They run 
around aimlessly; then they quiet down and sit in the silence of de- 
spair. Only one, the wise Ea/Enki, is equal to the situation. 

He of supreme intelligence, skilful, ingenious, 

Ea, who knows all things, saw through their scheme. 

He formed, yea, he set up against it 

the configuration of the universe, 

and skilfully made his overpowering sacred spell. 

Reciting it he cast it on the water ( — on Apsu — ^), 
poured slumber over him, so that he soundly slept. 

The waters to which Ea here recites his spell, his “configuration of 
the universe,” are Apsu. Apsu succumbs to the magic command 
and falls into a deep slumber. Then Ea takes from him his crown 
and drapes himself in Apsu’s cloak of fiery rays. He kills Apsu and 
establishes his abode above him. Then he locks up Mummu, 
passes a string through his nose, and sits holding him by the end of 
this nose-rope. 

What ail this signifies is perhaps not immediately evident; yet it 
can be understood. The means which Ea employs to subdue Apsu 
is a spell, that is, a word of power, an authoritative command. For 
the Mesopotamians viewed authority as a power inherent in com- 
mands, a power which caused a command to be obeyed, caused it to 
realize itself, to come true. The authority, the power in Ea’s com- 
mand, was great enough to force into being the situation expressed 
in the command. And the nattire of this situation is hinted at when 
it is called “the configuration of the universe”; it is the design 
which now obtains. Ea commanded that things should be as they 
are, and so they became thus. Apsu, the sweet waters, sank into the 
sleep of death which now holds the sweet waters immobile under- 
ground. Directly above them was established the abode of Ea — 
earth resting upon Apsu. Ea holds in his hands the nose-rope of 
captive Mummu, perhaps — ^if our interpretation of this difficult 
figure is correct— the cloud banks which float low over the earth. 


Bot, whatever the details of interpretation may be, it is significant 
that this first great victory of the gods over the powers of chaos, 
of the forces of activity over the forces opposing activity, was won 
throngh authority and not through physical force. It was gained 
through the authority implicit in a command, the magic in a spell. 
It is significant also that it was gained through the power of a single 
god acting on his own initiative, not by the concerted efforts of the 
whole community of the gods. The myth moves on a primitive 
level of social organization where dangers to the community are 
met by the separate action of one or more powerful individuals, not 
by co-operation of the community as a whole. 

To return to the story : In the dwelling which Ea has thus estab- 
lished on Apsu is born Marduk, the real hero of the myth as we 
have it; but in more original versions it was undoubtedly Enlifs 
birth that was told at this juncture. The text describes him: 

Superb of stature, with lightning glance, 
and virile gait, he . was a leader born. 

Ea his father, seeing him, rejoiced, 

and brightened and his heart filled with delight. 

He added, yea, he fastened on to him twofold divinity. 

Exceeding tall he was, surpassing in all things. 

Subtle beyond conceit his measure was, 
incomprehensible, terrible to behold. 

Four were his eyes and four his ears; 
fire blazed whenever he moved his lips. 

But while Marduk grows up among the gods, new dangers threaten 
from the forces of chaos. They maliciously chide Ti^amat: 

MTen they killed Apsu, thy husband, 

thou didst not march at his side but sat quietly. 

Finally they succeed in rousing her. Soon the gods hear that all the 
forces of chaos are making ready to do battle with them: 

Angry, scheming, restless day and night, 

they are bent on fighting, rage and prowl like lions. 

Gathered in council, they plan the attack. 

Mother Hubur— creator of all forms—' 

adds irresistible weapons, has borne monster serpents, 

sharp toothed, with fang unsparing; 

has filled their bodies with poison for blood. 


Fierce dragons she has draped with terror, 
crowned with flame and made like gods, 
so that whoever looks upon them shall perish with fear, 
and they, with bodies raised, will not turn back their breast. 

At the head of her formidable army Ti^amat has placed her second 
husband, Kingu. She has given him full authority and intrusted to 
him the “tablets of destinies,” which symbolize supreme power 
over the universe. Her forces are ranged in battle order ready to 
attack the gods. 

The first intelligence of what is afoot reaches the always well- 
informed Ea. At first, a typical primitive reaction, he is completely 
stunned, and it takes some time before he can pull himself together 
and begin to act. 

Ea heard of these matters, 

lapsed into dark silence, wordlessly sat. 

Then, having deeply pondered and his inner turmoil quieted, 

arose and went to his father Anshar, 

went before Anshar, his father who begot him. 

All Ti^’amat had plotted he recounted. 

Anshar also is deeply disturbed and smites his thigh and bites his 
lip in his mental anguish. He can think of no better way out than 
to send Ea against Ti’amat. He reminds Ea of his victory over 
Apsu and Mummu and seems to advise him to use the same means 
he used then. But this time Ea’s mission is unsuccessful. The word 
of an individual, even the powerful word of Ea, is no match for 
Ti^amat and her host. 

Anshar then turns to Anu and bids him go. Anu is armed with 
authority even greater than that of Ea, for he is told; 

If she obey not thy command, 

speak unto her our command, that she may subside. 

If Ti’amat cannot be overpowered by the authority of any one god, 
the command of all gods, having behind it their combined author- 
ity, must be used against her. But that, too, fails; Anu is unable to 
face Ti^amat, returns to Anshar, and asks to be relieved of the 
task. Unaided authority, even the highest which the gods com- 
mand, is not enough. Now the gods face their hour of gravest 
peril. Anshar, who has thus far directed the proceedings, falls 



Anshar grew silent, staring at the ground, 
he shook his head, nodded toward Ea. 

Ranged in assembly, ail the Anunnaki, 
lips covered, speechless sat. 

Then, finally, rising in all his majesty, Anshar proposes that Ea’s 
son, yoang Marduk, ‘^Vhose strength is mighty,” champion his 
fathers, the gods. Ea is willing to put the proposal to Marduk, who 
accepts readily enough but not without a condition: 

If I am to be your champion, 

vanquish Ti^amat, and save you, 

then assemble and proclaim my lot supreme. 

Sit down together joyfully in Ubshuukkinna; 
let me, like you, by word of mouth determine destiny, 
so that whatever I decide shall not be altered, 
and my spoken command shall not (come) back (to me), 
shall not be changed. 

Marduk is a young god. He has abundant strength, the full prow- 
ess of youth, and he looks ahead to the physical contest with com- 
plete confidence. But, as a young man, he lacks influence. It is for 
authority on a par with that of the powerful senior members of the 
community that he asks. A new and unheard-of union of powers is 
here envisaged: his demand foreshadows the coming state with its 
combination of force and authority in the person of the king. 

And so the call goes out, and the gods foregather in Ubshuuk- 
kinna, the court of assembly in Nippur. As they arrive, they meet 
friends and relatives who have similarly come to participate in the 
assembly, and there is general embracing. In the sheltered court the 
gods sit down to a sumptuous meal; wine and strong drink soon 
put them in a happy and carefree mood, fears and worries vanish, 
and the meeting is ready to settle down to more serious affairs. 

They smacked their tongues and sat down to the feast; 

They ate and drank, 

Sweet drink dispelled their fears. 

They sang for joy, drinking strong wine. 

Carefree they grew, exceedingly, their hearts elated. 

Of Marduk, (of) their champion, they decreed the destiny. 

The “destiny” mentioned is full authority on a par with that of the 
highest gods. The assembly first gives Marduk a seat of honor and 
then proceeds to confer the new powers on him: 


They made a princely dais for him. 

And he sat down, facing his fathers, as a councilor. 

“Thou arc of consequence among the eider gods. 

Thy rank is unsurpassed and thy command is Anu(’s) . 

Marduk, thou art of consequence among the elder gods; 

Thy rank is unequaled and thy command is Anu(’s) . 

From this day onward shall thy orders not be altered; 

To elevate and to abase — ^this be within thy power. 

What thou hast spoken shall come true, thy word shall 
not prove vain. 

Among the gods none shall encroach upon thy rights.’’ 

What the assembly of the gods here confers upon Marduk is king- 
ship: the combination of authority with powers of compulsion; a 
leading voice in the counsels of peace; leadership of the army in 
times of war; police powers to penalize evildoers. 

We gave thee kingship, power over all things. 

Take thy seat in the council, may thy word prevail. 

May thy weapon not yield, may it smite thy foes. 

Grant breath of life to lord(s) who put (their) trust 
in thee. 

But if a god embraces evil, shed his life. 

Having conferred authority upon Marduk, the gods want to 
know that he really has it, that his command now possesses that 
magic quality which makes it come true. So they make a test: 

They placed a garment in their midst 
And said to Marduk their firstborn: 

“O Lord, thy lot is truly highest among gods. 

Command annihilation and existence, and may both 
come true. 

May thy spoken word destroy the garment, 

Then speak again and may it be intact.” 

He spoke — and at his word the garment was destroyed. 

He spoke again, the garment reappeared. 

The gods, his fathers, seeing (the power of) his word, 

Rejoiced, paid homage: “Marduk is king.” 

Then they give him the insignia of kingship — scepter, throne, and 
royal robe(?) — and arm him for the coming conflict. Marduk’s 
weapons are the weapons of a god of storm and thunder— a cir- 
cumstance understandable when we remember that the story was 
originally the story of the storm-god Enlil. He carries the rainbow, 
the arrows of lightning, and a net held by four winds. 



He made a bow, designed it as his weapon, 
let the arrow ride firmly on the bowstring. 

Grasping his mace in his right hand, he lifted it; 
and fastened bow and quiver at his side. 

He bade lightning precede him, 

and made his body burn with searing flame. 

He made a net to encircle Ti^amat, 

bade the four winds hold on, that none of her escape. 

The south wind, north wind, east wind, west wind, 

Gifts from his father Ann, did he place along the edges 
of the net. 

In addition, he fashions seven terrible storms, lifts up his mace, 
which is the flood, mounts his war chariot, “the irresistible temp- 
est,” and rides to battle against Ti^amat with his army, the gods, 
milling around him. 

At the approach of Marduk, Kingu and the enemy army lose 
heart and are plunged into utter confusion; only Ti’amat stands her 
ground and challenges the young god to battle. Marduk returns the 
challenge, and the fight is on. Spreading his mighty net, Marduk 
envelops Ti^amat in its meshes. As she opens her jaws to swallow 
him, he sends in the winds to hold them open. The winds swell her 
body, and through her open mouth Marduk shoots an arrow which 
pierces her heart and kills her. When her followers see Marduk 
treading on their dead champion, they turn and try to flee; but 
they are caught in the meshes of his net, and he breaks their weap- 
ons and takes them captive. Kingu also is bound, and Marduk 
takes from him the “tablets of destinies.” 

When complete victory has thus been achieved, Marduk returns 
to Ti^amat’s body, crushes her skull with his mace, and cuts her 
arteries; and the winds carry her blood away. Then he proceeds to 
cut her body in two and to lift up half of it to form the sky. To 
make sure that the waters in it will not escape, he sets up locks and 
appoints guards. He carefully measures the sky which he has thus 
made; and, as Ea after his victory over Apsu had built his abode on 
the body of his dead opponent, so now Marduk builds his abode 
on that part of TPamat’s body which he has made into the sky. 
By measuring he makes certain that it comes directly opposite Ea’s 
dwelling to form a coimterpart of it. 

Here we may pause again for a raomait to ask what all this 


means. At the root of the battle between Marduk or Enlil and Ti^*- 
amat, between wind and water, there probably lies an age-old 
interpretation of the spring floods. Every spring the waters flood 
the Mesopotamian plain and the world reverts to a — or rather to 
“the”^ — ^primeval watery chaos until the winds fight the waters, 
dry them up, and bring back the dry land. Remnants of this concept 
may be seen in the detail that the winds carry away Ti’amat’s 
blood. But such age-old concepts had early become vehicles for 
cosmological speculation. We have already mentioned the existence 
of a view that heaven and earth were two great disks deposited by 
silt in the watery chaos and forced apart by the wind, so that the 
present universe is a sort of inflated sack surrounded by waters 
above and below. This speculation has left clear traces in Sumerian 
myths and in the An-Anum list, and here in Enuma elish we have a 
variant of it: it is the primeval sea, Ti^'amat, that is blown up and 
killed by the winds. Half of her — the present sea — is left down 
here; the other half is formed into the sky, and locks are affixed 
so that the water does not escape except once in a while when some 
of it falls down as rain. 

Thus, through the use which it makes of its mythological mate- 
rial, Enuma dish accounts in two ways for the creation of the sky . 
First, the sky comes into being in the person of the god Anu, 
whose name means sky and who is the god of the sky; then, again, 
the sky is fashioned by the wind-god out of half of the body of the 

In a period, however, when emphasis had already shifted from 
the visual aspects of the great components of the universe to the 
powers felt as active in and through them, Anu, as the power be- 
hind the sky, would already be felt as sufficiently diflPerent from 
the sky itself to make this inherent contradiction less acute. 

Quite as significant as the direct cosmological identification of 
the actors in these events, however, is the bearing which the 
events have on the establishing of the cosmic order. Under pres- 
sure of an acute crisis, a threatening war, a more or less primitively 
organized society has developed into a state. 

Evaluating this achievement in modem, and admittedly subjec- 
tive, terms, we might say that the powers of movement and activ- 
ity, the gods, have won their final and decisive victory over the 



powers of rest and inertia. To accomplish this, they have had to 
exert themselves to the utmost, and they have found a method, a 
form of organization, which permits them to pull their full weight. 
As the active forces in a society become integrated in the form of 
the state and thus can overcome the ever threatening tendencies to 
chaos and inertia, so the active forces in the Mesopotamian uni- 
verse through that same form, the state, overcome and defeat the 
powers of chaos, of inactivity and inertia. But, however that may 
be, this much is certain — that the crisis has imposed upon the gods 
a state of the type of a Primitive Democracy. All major issues are 
dealt with in a general assembly, where decrees are confirmed, de- 
signs are formulated, and judgments are pronounced. To each god 
is assigned a station, the most important going to the fifty senior 
gods, among whom are the seven whose opinion is decisive. In 
addition to this legislative and judiciary assembly, however, there 
is now an executive, the young king, who is equal in authority to 
the most influential members of the assembly, is the leader of the 
army in war, the punisher of evildoers in peacetime, and generally 
active, with the assent of the assembly, in matters of internal or- 

It is to tasks of internal organization that Marduk mms after 
his victory. The first was organizing the calendar — ever a matter 
for the ruler of Mesopotamia. On the sky which he had fashioned 
he set up constellations of stars to determine, by their rising and 
setting, the year, the months, and the days. The “station” of the 
planet Jupiter was established to make known the “duties” of the 
days, when each had to appear: 

To make known their obligations, 
that none might do wrong or be remiss. 

He also set on heaven two bands known as “the ways” of Enlil and 
Ea. On both sides of the sky, where the sun comes out in the morn- 
ing and leaves in the eveniqg, Marduk made gates and secured them 
with strong locks. In the midst of the sky he fixed the zenith, and 
he made the moon shine forth and gave it its orders. 

He bade the moon come forth; intrusted night to her; 

Made her a creature of the dark, to measure time; 

And every month, unfailingly, adorned her with a crown. 


“ At the beginning of the month, when rising over the land, 
Thy shining horns six days shall measure; 

On the seventh day let half (thy) crown (appear) . 

At full moon thou shalt face the sun. 

(But) when the sun starts gaining on thee in the depth 
of heaven, 

Decrease thy radiance, reverse its growth.” 

The text goes on with still more detailed orders. 

Many further innovations introduced by the energetic young 
ruler are lost in a large lacuna which breaks the text at this point. 
When the text becomes readable again, Marduk — seemingly in re*- 
sponse to a plea from them — is occupied witli plans for relieving 
the gods of all toilsome menial tasks and for organizing them into 
two great groups: 

Arteries I will knot and bring bones into being. 

I will create LuIIu, “man” be his name, 

I will form Lullu, man. 

Let him be burdened with the toil of the gods, 
that they may freely breathe. 

Next, I will dispose of the ways of gods; 

Verily — they are clustered like a bail, 

I shall make them distinct. 

Distinct, that is, in two groups. Following a suggestion of his 
father, Ea, Marduk then calls the gods to assembly; and in the as- 
sembly he asks them, now functioning as a court, to state who it 
was who was responsible for the attack, who stirred up Ti^amat. 
And the assembly indicts Kingu. So Kingu is bound and executed, 
and from his blood mankind is created under Ea’s direction. 

They bound him, held him before Ea, 

Condemned him, severed his arteries. 

And from his blood they formed mankind. 

Ea then toil imposed on man, and set gods free. 

The exceeding skill which went to fashion man commands the ad- 
miration of our poet. 

That work was not meet for (human) understanding. 

(Acting) on Marduk’s ingenious suggestions Ea created. 

Thereupon Marduk divided the gods and assigned them to Ann, 
to abide by Ann’s instructions. Three, hundred he stationed in 



heaven to do guard duty, and another three hundred were given 
tasks on earth. Thus the divine forces were organized and assigned 
to their appropriate tasks throughout the universe. 

The gods are truly grateful for Marduk’s efforts. To express 
their gratitude, they take pick in hand for the last time and build 
him a city and temple with throne daises for each of the gods to 
use when they meet there for assembly. The first assembly is held 
on the occasion of the dedication of the temple. As usual, the gods 
first sit down to a banquet. Thereupon matters of state are dis- 
cussed and decided, and then, when the current business has been 
disposed of, Anu rises to confirm Marduk’s position as king. He 
determines the eternal stams of Marduk’s weapon, the bow; he 
determines the status of his throne; and, finally, he calls upon the 
assembled gods to confirm and determine Marduk’s own status, 
his functions in the universe, by recounting his fifty names, each 
expressing one aspect of his being, each defining one of his func- 
tions. With the catalogue of these names the poem comes to an 
end. The names summarize what Marduk is and what he sig- 
nifies : the final victory over chaos and the establishing of the or- 
dered, organized universe, the cosmic state of the Mesopotamians. 

With Enuma elish we have reached a phase of Mesopotamian 
civilization in which the ancient world view which had formed the 
subconscious, intuitively accepted framework for all individual 
speculations begins itself to become a theme of conscious inquiry. 
Whereas the older myths answered questions concerning origins, 
order, and evaluation of details, Enuma elishanswets questions con- 
cerning fundamentals. It deals with the origin and the order of the 
universe as a whole. It deals, however, only with origin and order, 
not with evaluation. The fundamental question of evaluation con- 
cerns the justice of the world order. This question was taken up, 
but not mythologically. The answers given will form the subject of 
chapter vii, which deals with “the good life.” Before that, how- 
ever, we should consider the reflection of the Mesopotamian view 
of world order in social and political life. We turn to the func- 
tion of the state. 


1. Gilgamesh Epic, Old Babylonian version, Yale Tablet IV, 7-8. 

2. CTXV, 15. 12. 


3. Reissner, SBH VII, rev. i7“24. The flood serves in this passage as metaphor 
for the divine verdict. 

The English .form of the quotations from ancient poetry in these chapters is the 
work of Mrs. Frankfort, who has been extraordinarily successful in conveying the 
beauty of the original with a minimum of poetic license. 

4. “Mythology,” Encyclopaedia Britannka (11th ed.), Vol. 19, p. 134. 

5. Maqlu^ Tablet VI, 111-19. 

6. Verdict on Flint in Lugake. 

7. Cf. the Nidaba hymn, DECT I, 36-39. 

8. Maqluy Tablet III, 151-52. 

9. IMd. VI, 1-8. 

10. KAR 102. 

1 1 . CT XXIV, 50, No. 47406 obv. 6 and 8. 

12. Maqld, Tablet 11, 104-15. 

13. Folitks 1252^. 

14. RA XI, 144 obv. 3-5. 

15. Thureau-Dangin, Riu acc., 70 obv. 1-14. 

16. Kramer, ^5X11, 34 and 36, II. 173-89. 

17. Ibid., p. 38, 11. 203-4. 

18. Ibid., pp. 38 and 40, II. 208-18. 

19. KAR 25. iii. 21-29, and 68 obv. 1-11. 

20. KAR 375. ii. 1-8. 

21. Reissner, SBH, pp. 130 fF., 11. 48-55. 

22. CT XXXVI, Pi. 31, 1-20. 

23. Kramer, Mythology, nn. 47 and 48. 

24. Ibid., nn. 54 and 55. 

25. Ibid., n. 59. 

26. Ibid., n. 73. 

27. Chi era, SRT, 4 obv. 17-22. 

28. Ibid., 3. 

29. Latest translation: Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis. See literature there quoted, 

30. A Semitic language which had long been spoken side by side with Sumerian 
in Mesopotamia and which by the end of the third millennium b.c. completely super- 
seded its rival and became the only language spoken in the country. 

31. Le., within Apsu, Mummu, and TPamat. 



T ee first subject with which we are to deal is “the function 
of the state,” that is, the particular function which the 
human state in Mesopotamia was thought to fulfil in the function- 
ing of the universe as a whole. Before we go any further, however, 
it will be well to consider our modem term “state,” lest it trip us 
up when we apply it to ancient Mesopotamian concepts. When we 
speak of a state, we usually imply inner sovereignty and independ- 
ence of all external control. Moreover, we think of a state as domi- 
nating a specific territory, and we see as its chief aim the protection 
of its members and the furthering of their well-being. 

Now in the Mesopotamian view of the world, these attributes 
do not — ^indeed, cannot — belong to any human organization. The 
only truly sovereign state, independent of all external control, is 
the state which the universe itself constitutes, the state governed 
by the assembly of the gods. This state, moreover, is the state 
which dominates the territory of Mesopotamia; the gods own the 
land, the big estates, in the country. Lastly, since man was created 
especially for the benefit of the gods, his purpose is to serve the 
gods. Therefore no human institution can have its primary aim in 
the welfare of its own human members; it must seek primarily the 
welfare of the gods. 

But if our term “state” thus rightly applies only to the state 
which the Mesopotamian universe constituted, what, then, we 
may ask, are the political units on the human level which we find 
throughout Mesopotamian history and which historians call city- 
states and nations.^ The answer would seem to be that they are 
secondary power-structures within the true state. The so-called 
“city-state” is a private organization and has a primarily economic 
purpose; it is the manor, the estate, of some great god. The nation- 
al state also is a secondary power structure, but it has a political 



function; it may be considered an extension of the executive organs 
of the world state, a police force. 

Having thus defined in general the entities with which we are 
dealing, we may consider in more detail the function they fulfil in 
the universe, in the cosmic state. 


Throughout the third millennium b.c. Mesopotamia was made 
up of small political units, the so-called “city-states.” Each such 
state consisted of a city with its surrounding territory, cultivated 
by the people of the city. Sometimes a city-state included more 
than one city. There might be two or three towns and a number of 
villages which were dependent on and administered by the chief 
city. From time to time conquerors arose who succeeded in uniting 
most of the city-states into a single large national state under their 
rule; but these national states usually lasted for a relatively short 
time, after which the country would divide into city-states again. 

Central in the city-state was the city, and central in the city 
was the temple of the city god. The temple of the city god was 
usually the greatest landowner in the state, and it cultivated its 
extensive holdings by means of serfs and sharecroppers. Other 
temples belonging to the city god’s spouse, to their divine children, 
and to deities associated with the chief god similarly had large 
land holdings, so that it has been estimated that around the middle 
of the third millennium b.c. most of the lands of a Mesopotamian 
city-state were temple lands. The larger part of the inhabitants 
were accordingly earning their livelihood as sharecroppers, serfs, 
or servants of the gods. 

In this situation lie the economic and political realities expressed 
in the Mesopotamian myths which state that man was created to 
relieve the gods of toil, to work on the gods’ estates. For the Meso- 
potamian city-state nuas an estate, or rather— like the medieval 
manor with which we have compared it — ^it had an estate as basis. 
That basic estate, the main temple with its lands, was owned and 
run by the city god, who himself gave all important orders. 

To carry out these orders the city god had at his disposal a large 
staff of divine and human servants. The human servants worked in 
the house and in the fields and were organized accordingly. The 



divine servants, minor gods, served as overseers of the work. Each 
such minor god had his own special province in the running of the 
estate; and here he infused his divine powers into the labor of his 
human underlings, so that it prospered and bore fruit. 

We are particularly well informed^ about the organization of the 
main temple in the city-state of Lagash, which belonged to a god 
by the name of Ningirsu. This temple may therefore serve as an 

There are, first, the divine servants of Ningirsu, minor gods 
who belong to his family and entourage. They fall into two groups: 
some have their tasks in the manor house, the temple itself; others 
work on the temple lands, in the fields. 

Among the gods who are busy in the manor house we find the 
son of the owner, the god Igalimma, who is doorkeeper at the 
Holy of Holies and admits visitors who seek audience with Nin- 
girsu. Another son of Ningirsu, Dunshagana, is the chief butler. 
He supervises the preparation and serving of food and drink, keeps 
an eye on the temple breweries, and sees to it that the shepherds 
deliver lambs and milk products for the god’s table. Next come 
two armorers, who take care of Ningirsu’s weapons and follow 
him as armor-bearers in battle. In more peaceful pursuits Ningirsu 
has the support of a divine counselor, who discusses the needs of 
his city with him. His personal needs are cared for by a body-serv- 
ant, the god Shakanshabar, who runs errands for Ningirsu, and by 
his divine chamberlain Urizi, who has charge of the god’s dwelling- 
quarters, sees to it that the god’s bed is well and properly made 
every night, etc. In the stables of the manor we find the coachman, 
Ensignun, Ningirsu’s charioteer, who cares for the god’s donkeys 
and his chariot. Here is also Enlulim, the divine goaAerd, who 
cares for the flocks of the temple and sees to it that there is plenty 
of milk and butter. 

Returning to the dwelling-quarters, we note Ningirsu’s mu- 
sician, who is in charge of the musical instruments and whose task 
it is to fill the court with joy when he plays. There is also a drum- 
mer. He performs chiefly when Ningirsu is disturbed or upset; then 
the deep beat of the drum will help to soothe the god’s heart and to 
still his tears. Ningirsu has seven daughters by his wife Baba. They 
act as ladies-in-waiting at his court. 


Outside the manor house, in the fields, lie the duties of the god 
Gishbare, the bailiff of Ningirsu, who is charged with making the 
fields yield, causing the water to rise in the canals, and filling the 
temple granaries. Here also is the divine inspector of fisheries, who 
stocks the ponds with fish, looks after the reed thickets, and sends 
in his reports to Ningirsu. The wild life on the estate is in the care 
of a divine gamekeeper or forester, who is to see that the birds lay 
their eggs in peace and that the young of birds and beasts grow up 

A divine sheriff, finally, enforces the ordinances in the town, 
keeping watch on its walls and patrolling it, club in hand. 

While these divine overseers bless the tasks performed on Nin- 
girsu’s estate, the actual menial labor is done by humans. These 
human toilers, whether sharecroppers, serfs, or temple servants, 
shepherds, brewers, or cooks, were organized in groups under hu- 
man overseers in a hierarchy which culminated in the highest hu- 
man servant of the god, the ensi, manager of the god’s estate and 
manager of his city-state. 

We call the ensi “manager” of the god’s estate; and his position 
vis-a-vis the god was actually closely parallel to that of an estate 
manager, a steward, vis-Wis the owner. A steward appointed to 
manage an estate is expected, first of all, to uphold and carry on 
the established order of that estate; secondly, he is to execute such 
specific commands as the owner may see fit to give with respect 
to changes, innovations, or ways to deal with unexpected situa- 
tions. Quite similarly, the ensi was expected to uphold the estab- 
lished order of the god’s temple and city in general, and he was 
expected to consult the god and carry out any specific orders which 
the god might wish to give. 

To the first part of the ensi's task belonged the administration of 
the temple and its estate. He was in complete charge of all the ag- 
ricultural tasks, of temple forests, and temple fisheries, of the spin- 
neries, looms, mills, breweries, bakeries, kitchens, etc., which 
formed part of the temple manor. Minute accounts were kept of 
all these activities by a corps of scribes, and these accounts were 
submitted to and approved by him. As he managed the temple of 
the city god, so his wife managed the temple and estate of the di- 



vine spouse of the city god, and his children managed the temples 
of the children of the city god. 

In addition to these tasks, the msi was responsible for law and 
order in the state and was to see to it that everybody was justly 
treated. Thus we hear about one msi that he “contracted with the 
god Ningirsu that he would not deliver up the orphan and the 
widow to the powerful man.”^ The msi, therefore, was the highest 
judicial authority. But he had other duties also: he was command- 
er-in-chief of the army of the city-state, he negotiated for his lord 
the god with mi’s representing the gods of other city-states, and 
he made war and peace. 

With these last functions we touch on the other aspect of the 
CT25i’s task, that of executing the specific commands of the god; for 
war and peace involved decisions which went beyond the normal 
order, decisions which could be made only by the god himself. 
Among other questions which the city-god himself must decide 
was whether to rebuild the main temple. 

To ascertain the will of his master, the msi commanded several 
approaches. He might receive an order through the occurrence of 
something unusual and portentous in nature, an omen whose signifi- 
cance the priests could interpret from long catalogues in which 
such omens and their meanings were listed. He might, however, 
also seek answer to a definite question by sacrificing an animal to 
the god and reading the god’s message in the shape of the liver of 
the sacrificial animal. If the answer was not clear at first, he could 
repeat the process. Still another way of communicating with the 
god, the most direct one, was through dreams. The msi would go 
to the temple at night, sacrifice, pray, and lie down to sleep. In 
dreams the god might then appear to him and give him his orders. 

We possess several detailed accounts of how such orders were 
transmitted from the god to his human steward. An example is an 
order from the god Ningirsu to his steward Gudea, msi of Lagash.® 
This order concerned the rebuilding of Ningirsu’s temple, Eninnu. 
Gudea first noticed that something was amiss when the river Ti- 
gris, which Ningirsu controlled, failed to rise as usual and flood the 
fields . Gudea immediately betook himself to the temple, and there 
he had a dream. In the dream he saw a gigantic man with a divine 
crown, with wings like a great bird, and with a body which ended 


below in a floodwave. To the right and left of this man lions were 
lying. The man commanded Gudea to build his temple. Then day 
broke on the horizon. Next, a woman emerged and proceeded to 
raze a building plot. In her hand was a stylus of gold and a clay 
tablet on which constellations of stars were set down; these she 
studied. Then came a warrior who held a tablet of lapis lazuli upon 
which he sketched the plan of a house. Before Gudea stood a brick 
mold and a basket; bird-men unceasingly poured water into a 
trough; and a male donkey to the right of the god was impatiently 
pawing the ground. 

Though Gudea realized the general purport of this dream, that 
he was to rebuild Ningirsu’s temple, the meanings of the details 
were not clear to him at all. He therefore decided to consult the 
goddess Nanshe, who lived in a smaller town in his realm and was 
especially apt at interpreting dreams. The journey took time, for 
he stopped at every temple on the way to pray for help and sup- 
port. Finally he arrived, however, and went straight to the goddess 
to place his problem before her. She was ready with an answer 
(how it was conveyed we are not told; all we have is the answer 
itself) : the man with the crown and the wings was Ningirsu com- 
manding Gudea to rebuild his temple Eninnu. The daylight was 
Gudea’s personal god, who would be active all over the world, 
bringing success to the trade expeditions which Gudea would send 
out to get building materials for the temple. The goddess who stud- 
ied the tablet with the stars was determining the particular star 
under which it would be propitious to rebuild the temple. The plan 
the god was drawing was that of the temple. Brick mold and bas- 
ket were the brick mold and basket for the sacred bricks of the tem- 
ple; the bird-men working incessantly signified that Gudea would 
permit himself no sleep before he carried out his task; and the im- 
patient donkey pawing the ground symbolized the ensi himself, im- 
patient to begin the work. 

But the command had not yet been made specific. What kind of 
temple did Ningirsu want? What should it contain? Nanshe ad- 
vised Gudea to seek further information from the god. He was to 
build a new war chariot for Ningirsu, furnish it lavishly, and bring 
it in to the god to the sound of drums. Then Ningirsu, “who de- 
lights in gifts,” would heed Gudea’s prayers and tell him exactly 



how the temple should be built. Gudea followed this advice, and, 
after spending several nights in the temple without result, he 
finally saw Ningirsu, who told in detail what units the new temple 
must contain. 

Gudea awoke, he had been sleeping; he shook himself, it was a dream. 

In acceptance, he bowed his head to the commands of Ningirsu. 

Now Gudea could go ahead. He called his people together, told 
them of the divine command, assigned levies to the building opera- 
tions, sent out trade expeditions, etc. Now he had his orders, knew 
what he was to do. 

We have here described a divine order to undertake the building 
of a temple. But in similar manner, by direct divine command, 
originated all significant undertakings. The god commanded the 
undertaking of a war, the conclusion of a peace, the introduction of 
new laws and customs to regulate the community. 

The role of the city-state within that larger state which the uni- 
verse constitutes is thus reasonably clear. It is a private institution 
with a function which is mainly economic. It belongs to and is 
headed by a private citizen of the cosmic state, one of the great 
gods; it is his manor. As a manor, it provides the god with the es- 
sentials of life; food, clothing, and shelter. It provides these in such 
abundance that the god can live the life which befits him, the life of 
a nobleman surrounded by servants, attendants, and material 
wealth. Thus he is allowed free and unhindered self-expression. 

Now each great god is, as we have seen, the power in and be- 
hind some great force of nature — -the sky, the storm, or whatever 
it may be. By upholding a great god, by providing the economic 
basis which permits that god to enjoy full and free self-expression, 
the city-state is upholding some great power of the universe and 
assuring its freedom to function as it should. And this is the func- 
tion of the human city-state within the cosmos. In this manner it 
contributes to maintaining and perpetuating the ordered cosmos and 
its powers. 


Different in function from the city-state, active on the political 
rather than on the economic plane, was the national state in Meso- 
potamia. Both city-state and national state were power-structures 


which rose ultimately above the purely human level; each had its 
apex in a great god. But, whereas the lines of the city-state focused 
on a great god in his capacity as a private citizen of the cosmic 
state, the lines of the national state focused on a gread god in his 
capacity as an official of the cosmic state. The national state thus 
became an extension of a governmental organ of the only true and 
sovereign state. 

The ruling body in the cosmic state is, as will be remembered, 
the assembly of the gods. Here Anu acts as leader of the debate, 
while Enlil represents the executive powers as sheriff and com- 
mander of the armed forces. However, though Enlil typifies the 
element of force in the world government, he is not its only repre- 
sentative. The assembly may choose any one of its members to 
maintain internal order and to lead the armed forces, proclaiming 
him king. The god chosen king then exercises these functions 
among the gods, while he acts on earth through his human steward, 
the ruler of his city-state. That human steward accordingly domi- 
nates the other rulers in Mesopotamia and through them their city- 
states. For example, the period around the middle of the second 
millennium b.c., when the city-states of Inanna, namely, Kish and 
Agade, successively held sway in Mesopotamia, was the “period 
of reign” of Inanna. Later on, when Ur dominated, its god Nanna 
held office as king among the gods. 

So strong, however, were the ties linking Enlil to these execu- 
tive functions that the kingship was often referred to directly as 
“the Enlil functions,” and the god who held this office was thought 
of as acting under Enlil’s guidance. 

The functions of kingship were twofold; to punish evildoers 
and uphold law and order internally and to conduct foreign wars 
and protect Mesopotamia externally. Two examples may serve to 
clarify the theory. 

When Hammurabi, after thirty years as ruler of the small city- 
state of Babylon, succeeded in subjugating all of southern Meso- 
potamia, his success meant— in cosmic terms — that Marduk, the 
city-god of Babylon, had been chosen by the divine assembly, act- 
ing through its leaders Anu and Enlil, to administer the Enlil func- 
tions. Correspondingly, Marduk’s human steward, Hammurabi, 



had been intrusted with the administration of these functions on 
earth. Hammurabi tells about it as follows: 

When lofty Ann, king of the Annnnaki, and Enlil, lord of heaven 
and earth, 

who determine the destinies of the country, appointed Marduk, 
the firstborn 

son of Enki, to execute the Enlil functions over the totality of the 
people, made him great among the Igigi, called Babylon by its 
exalted name, made it 

surpassing (ly great) in the world, and firmly established for him 
in its 

midst an enduring kingship whose foundations are (as) firmly 
grounded as 

(those of) heaven and earth — then did Anu and Enlil call me to 
afford well-being to the people, 

me, Hammurabi, the obedient, godfearing prince, to cause right- 
eousness to appear in the land, 

to destroy the evil and the wicked, that the strong harm not the 

and that I rise like the sun over the black-headed people, lighting 
up the land.^ 

Marduk, as we see from this passage, is to act as executive for 
Enlil, Hammurabi for Marduk. Since the passage is taken from the 
introduction to Hammurabi’s law code, it is only natural that those 
of the Enlil functions which have reference to the maintaining of 
law and order are especially stressed. 

Before the Enlil functions passed to Marduk and Babylon, they 
were held by the city of Isin and by its goddess Nininsina. We may 
quote from a text in which the goddess herself tells about her 
duties; she stresses her function as leader of foreign wars: 

When the heart of the great mountain Enlil has become turbulent, 

when he has knit his brows against a foreign land and determined 
the fate of a rebellious country, 

then my father Enlil sends me to the rebellious country against 
which he has knit his brows, 

and I, woman and hero, I, the mighty warrior, I go against it!® 

She continues with a description of the punishment which her 
armed might inflicts upon the foreign land and tells how she re- 
ports back to Enlil in Nippur. 


Since the human steward acts for the city-god, even when the 
city-god has been chosen king and exercises the Enlil functions, the 
appointment of the human steward also is in such a case no longer 
a private affair of the city-god’s; it needs confirmation from the 
divine assembly. Accordingly, we hear how, when Nanna, the god 
of Ur, became king of the gods, he had to travel to Nippur to seek 
office for his steward, Shulgi. In Nippur, Nanna is received in 
audience before Enlil, and his proposal is accepted. Says Enlil: 

Let my shepherd, Shulgi, cause pain to rebellious countries; 
let commands of righteousness be in his mouth (?).® 

He mentions the two outstanding aspects of the office: leadership 
in war and the upholding of justice. Then Nanna brings back to his 
human protege the glad tidings that his candidacy has been ac- 

A more complete and detailed description of such confirmation 
of an appointment is contained in a petition of die ruler Islime- 
Dagan of Isin. He asks first that Enlil give him lordship in north and 
south and that Anu, at Enlil’s suggestion, give him “all shepherd 
staves.” Then each of the other great gods is besought to add 
some feamre, to help in a particular way. When thus the appoint- 
ment and its powers have been fully outlined, the king asks: 

May Enki, Ninki, Enul, Ninul, and those of the Anunnaki who 
are fate-determining lords, 

(as also) the spirits of Nippur, (and) the genii of Ekur, among 
the great gods 

speak concerning the destiny which they have determined, their 
immutable “Let it be.”^ 

That is, may the assembly of the gods confirm the appointment by 
their assenting votes. 

The fact that the Mesopotamian universe was conceived of as a 
state— that the gods who owned and ruled the various city-states 
were bound together in a higher unity, the assembly of the gods, 
which possessed executive organs for exerting outward pressure as 
well as for enforcing law and order internally — had far-reaching 
consequences for Mesopotamian history and for the ways in which 
historical events were viewed and interpreted. It vastly strength- 
ened tendencies toward political unification of the country by sanc- 
tioning even the most violent of means used toward that end. For 



any conqueror, if he was successful, was recognized as the agent of 
Enlil. It also provided — even at times when national unity was at a 
low ebb and the many city-states were, for all practical purposes, 
independent units — a background on which international law could 
work. We see, already at the dawn of history, that a boundary dis- 
pute between the neighboring city-states Lagash and Umma was 
viewed as a dispute between two divine landowners, Ningirsu, the 
god of Lagash, and Shara, the god of Umma. As such it could be 
taken to court and adjudicated by Enlil in Nippur. Enlil implement- 
ed his decision through the ruler who was then his human represent- 
ative, Mesilim, king of Kish. Mesilim measured the disputed ter- 
ritory and marked the boundary line which Enlil had designated.® 
In a similar manner other “kings” throughout Mesopotamian 
history acted as mediators and judges in disputes between city- 
states, fulfilling their tasks as Enlil’s representatives. Thus Um- 
hegal of Uruk, after he had freed and united Shumer, settled bound- 
ary disputes between Lagash and Ur.® Again, Umammu, the first 
king of the Third Dynasty of Ur, brought a similar dispute before 
the judge of the gods, the sun-god Utu, and “in accordance with 
the righteous verdict of Utu he had the underlying facts cleared up 
and confirmed (by wimesses) .”^® 

This tendency to view what was, in purely human terms, a 
naked conflict of force as a legal procedure in the state of the gods, 
as an execution of a divine verdict, appears in full light in an in- 
scription in which Utuhegal tells how he liberated Shumer from 
its Gutian oppressors. After an introduction stating the misrule 
which the Gutians had instituted, Utuhegal tells how Enlil gave a 
verdict deposing them. Then follows Enlil’s commission to Utu- 
hegal, a divine deputy is assigned to him to accompany him and 
authorize his action as that of a legally empowered agent. And, 
finally, we hear about his campaign and victory. 

The function which the national state performed as extension 
of the executive organs of the cosmic state was important but not 
indispensable. There had been a time when the kingship rested in 
heaven before Anu and had not yet descended to earth, and there 
were times in history when the gods appointed no human king on 
earth. Still the universe continued in its course. And, just as the 
national kingship itself was not indispensable, so was any particu- 


lar incumbent of tliis office still less indispensable. From time to 
time the god and city that exercised the kingship were judged un- 
fit for the function, if only for the reason that the divine assembly 
desired a change. Then the city “was smitten with weapons,” and 
the kingship was either conferred on another god and city or held 
in abeyance. 

When such momentous events were shaping, the royal city be- 
gan to feel its grip slipping, its functioning becoming inefficient. 
All omens and signs became confused, the gods gave no clear an- 
swers to man's questions, no orders were transmitted, sinister por- 
tents appeared, and with fear and foreboding man awaited the 

The gods of the doomed city suffered with it. We know, for in- 
stance, the feeling which gripped Ningal, goddess of Ur, in the days 
when the fall of that city was approaching, when a coming assem- 
bly of the gods would decide that the kingship which Ur had held 
should pass away from it and the city should perish in Enlif s terri- 
ble storm. The goddess herself tells about those days: 

When I was grieving for that day of storm, 
that day of storm, destined for me, laid upon me, heavy with tears, 
that day of storm, destined for me, laid upon me, heavy with tears, 
on me, a woman — 

though I was trembling for that day of storm, 

that day of storm, destined for me, laid upon me, heavy with tears, 

that cruel day of storm destined for me — 

I could not flee before that day’s fatality. 

And of a sudden I espied no happy days within my reign, 
no happy days within my reign. 

Though I would tremble for that night, 
that night of cruel weeping destined for me, 

I could not flee before that night’s fatality. 

Dread of the storm’s floodlike destruction w^eighed on me, 

and of a sudden on my couch at night, 

upon my couch at night no dreams were granted me. 

And of a sudden on my couch oblivion, 
upon my couch oblivion was not granted. 

Because (this) bitter weeping had been destined for my land, 
and I could not, even if I scoured the earth — a cow seeking her calf— • 
have brought my people back, 

because (this) bitter sorrow had been destined for my city, 



and, like a bird, flown to my city, 

yet my city would have been destroyed on its foundation, 

yet Ur would have perished where it lay. 

Because that day of storm had raised its hand, 
and even had I screamed out loud and cried: 

‘'Turn back, O day of storm, (turn) to (thy) desert,” 
the breast of that storm would not have been lifted from med^ 

Though Ningal knows that it is hopeless, that the minds of the gods 
are made up, she does her utmost to sway the assembly when the 
fateful verdict is given, first imploring the leaders Ann and Enlil, 
then, when that has failed, even making a last attempt in the as- 
sembly itself — all to no avail. 

Then verily, to the assembly, where the crowd had not yet risen, 
while the Anunnaki, binding themselves (to uphold the decision), 
were still seated, 

I dragged my feet and I stretched out my arms. 

In truth, I shed my tears in front of Anu. 

In truth, myself I mourned in front of Enlil: 

“May not my city be destroyed!” I said indeed to them. 

“May Ur not be destroyed!” I said indeed to them. 

“And may its people not be killed!” I said indeed to them. 

But Anu never bent toward those words, 

and Enlil never with an, “It is pleasing, let it be,” 

did soothe my heart. 

(Behold,) they gave instruction that the city be destroyed, 

(behold,) they gave instruction that Ur be destroyed, 
and as its destiny decreed that its inhabitants be killed.^^ 

And so Ur goes down before the onslaught of barbarians. The gods 
have decided — as another hymn says of this event: 

To bring on other days, annihilate the plan 
and — ^while the storms foamed like a flood— - 
subvert the ways of Shumer.^^ 

We quote these lines because they sum up what was involved in 
the national kingship. The national kingship was the guaranty of 
^^the ways of Shumer” (that is, the ways of civilized Mesopota- 
mia) , the orderly, lawful pattern of life. Its function in the world 
was to give protection against enemies external and internal, to in- 
sure the reign of justice and righteousness in human affairs. 



With this discussion of the city-state and the national state we 
have outlined the function of the human state in general in the 
Mesopotamian universe. The city-state had an economic function. 
It provided a great god and his entourage with the economic basis 
which would enable him to live a full life, to realize his nature un- 
hindered. The national state had a political function. It was an ex- 
tension of the executive organs of the state of the universe and en- 
forced on the human level the gods’ decisions, insuring armed pro- 
tection of their estates, upholding justice and righteousness as a 
basis for the intercourse of their servants, men. 

Yet we should not leave our subject, the function of the state, 
without calling attention to a curious and interesting aspect which 
somehow fails to stand out when the human state is seen from the 
viewpoint of the imiversal state. That aspect is the relation of the 
human state to nature. 

We have mentioned that die city-state furnishes the economic 
background which permitted the gods to live a full life in unhin- 
dered self-expression. This self-expression differed for the differ- 
ent gods; each had his own particular mode of life, his own char- 
acteristic observances and rites. This is apparent in the great cult 
festivals, which sometimes center in a marriage rite, sometimes in 
a battle drama, and sometimes in a death and revival drama. These 
cult festivals were matters of state; frequently the king or the ruler 
of the city-state performed the chief role in the cult drama. But 
why should they be matters of state? 

We may consider one of these cult festivals in some detail. 
Around the end of the third millennium the city of Isin, which was 
then the ruling city in southern Mesopotamia, celebrated yearly the 
marriage of the goddess Inanna to the god Dumuzi or Tammuz. It 
is understandable that a marriage should be a typical form of self- 
expression for the youthful goddess, and — ^in the view of the uni- 
verse as a state— it is only logical that her human servants and re- 
tainers should officiate at the wedding and take part in the celebra- 
tion as guests and spectators. Since the goddess is an incarnation of 
the fertility of nature, and her husband, the shepherd-god Dumuzi, 
incarnates the creative powers of spring, it is understandable that 



this annual union of god and goddess signifies and is the reawaken- 
ing of nature in spring. In the marriage of these deities the fertility 
and the creative powers of nature themselves becomes manifest. 
But why, we may ask, should human servants of the gods, the hu- 
man ruler and — so it seems — a priestess, transcend their human sta- 
tus, take on the identity of the deities Dumuzi and Inanna, and go 
through their marriage? For this is what took place in the rites. 
The answer to that question lies back beyond the times when the 
view of the world as a state took form, back in a remote prehistoric 
age when the gods were not yet anthropomorphic rulers of states 
and cities but were still directly the phenomena of namre. In those 
days man’s attitude was not merely one of passive obedience; it 
called for active intervention, as it does among many primitives to- 
day. It is one of the tenets of mythopoeic logic that similarity and 
identity merge; “to be like” is as good as “to be.” Therefore, by 
being like, by enacting the role of, a force in nature, a god, man 
could in the cult enter into and clothe himself with the identity of 
these powers, with the identity of the gods, and through his own ac- 
tions, when thus identified, cause the powers involved to act as he 
would have them act. By identifying himself with Dumuzi, the 
king is Dumuzi; and similarly the priestess is Inanna — our texts 
clearly state this. Their marriage is the marriage of the creative 
powers of spring. Thus through a willed act of man is achieved a 
divine union wherein is the all-pervading, life-giving re-creative 
potency upon which depends, as our texts tell us, “the life of all 
lands” and also the steady flow of days, the renewal of the new 
moon throughout the new year.^^ 

As in this marriage rite, so also with the other types of cult fes- 
tivals. In the death and revival drama man becomes the god of 
vegetation, the god of the grass and plants which have disappeared 
over the dry summer and the cold winter. Having become the god, 
man lets himself be found and thus causes the return of the god, of 
the new vegetation that springs up everywhere when spring comes. 
These rites usually comprise wailing processions lamenting the 
god who has been lost, a search for the god, finding him, and the 
triumphant return with him.^® 

This same approach underlies the battle drama. Each new year, 
when floods threatened to bring back the primeval watery chaos, it 


was of the essence that the gods should fight again that primeval 
battle in which the world was first won. And so man took on the 
identity of a god; in the cult rite the king became Enlil or Marduk 
or Assur, and as the god he fought the powers of chaos. To the 
very end of Mesopotamian civilization, a few centuries before our 
era, the king, every new year in Babylon, took on the identity of 
Marduk and vanquished Kingu, leader of Ti^amat’s host, by burn- 
ing a lamb in which that deity was incarnate.^’^ 

In these festivals, which were state festivals, the human state 
contributed to the control of nature, to the upholding of the orderly 
cosmos. In the rites man secured the revival of nature in spring, 
won the cosmic battle against chaos, and created the orderly world 
each year anew out of chaos. 

Though these functions of the human state have been integrated 
to some degree with the view of the universe as a state, though the 
festivals are seen as the activities, the self-expression, of a divine 
nobility — the marriages of the gods, their battles, their death and 
revival — ^in which humans take part as servants will in the great 
events of their masters’ lives, yet the deeper significance, the inner 
sense of these festivals, lies outside of and is not truly founded in 
the view of the universe as a state. It should therefore not cause 
wonder that they cannot stand out in true perspective in a presen- 
tation of that view; they represent an older layer of “speculative 

According to the view of the world as a state, man is the slave 
of the great cosmic forces; he serves them and obeys them; and his 
only means of influencing them is by prayer and sacrifice, that is, 
by persuasion and gifts. According to the older view which created 
the festivals, man could himself become god, could enter into the 
identity of the great cosmic forces in the universe which surround- 
ed him, and could thus sway it by action, not merely by suppli- 


1 , Largely through the account in Gudea’s Cyl. B. 

2. Urukagina Cones B and C XII, 25-28. 

,3.',' Gudea, Cyl. A. 

4. Cff I, 1-44. Line-division not that of original. 

. .5.^Chiera, 'Si?r 6, Hi, 32-37. ' 



6. TSR IL 86 and BE XXXI, 24, i, 22-23. 

7. PBS X 2 , 9, rev. i, 16-20. 

8. Entemena, Cone A. 

9. YOS IX, Nos. 18-20. 

10. Urnammu Ciay-nail B. 

1 1 . Utuhegal inscription, RA IX, 111 if., and X, 99 IF. 

12. Kramer, AS XI!, pp. 26 and 28, 11. 88-112. 

13. IMd., p. 32, II. 152-64. 

14. BE XXXI, 3, 1-3. 

15. Cf. Chiera, SRT 1, V, 14 fF. 

16. Cf., e.g., De Genouillac, TRS I, No. 8. 

17. CT XV, PL 44, IL 8' fF. 




I N A civilization which sees the whole universe as a state, obedi- 
ence must necessarily stand out as a prime virtue. For a state 
is built on obedience, on the unquestioned acceptance of authority. 
It can cause no wonder, therefore, to find that in Mesopotamia the 
“good life” was the “obedient life.” The individual stood at the 
center of ever wider circles of authority which delimited his free- 
dom of action. The nearest and smallest of these circles was con- 
stituted by authorities in his own family: father and mother, older 
brother and older sister. We possess a hymn which describes a 
coming golden age, and we find that age characterized as one of 
obedience, as 

Days when one man is not insolent to another, when a son 
reveres his father, 

days when respect is shown in the land, when the lowly honor 
the great, 

when the younger brother respects(?) his older brother, 

when the older child instructs the younger child and he (i.e., 
the younger) abides by his decisions.^ 

The Mesopotamian is constantly admonished: “Pay heed to the 
word of thy mother as to the word of thy god; ” “Revere thy older 
brother”; “Pay heed to the word of thy older brother as to the 
word of thy father”; “Anger not the heart of thy older sister.” 

But obedience to the older members of one’s family is merely a 
beginning. Beyond the family lie other circles, other authorities: 
the state and society. There is the foreman where one works; there 
is the bailiff who oversees agricultural works in which one takes 
part; there is the king. All these can and must claim absolute obedi- 
ence. The Mesopotamian looked with disapproval and pity, but 
also with fear, on the crowd which had no leader: “Soldiers with- 
out a king are sheep without their shepherd.”^ 

A crowd with no leader to organize and direct it is lost and be- 




wildered, like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. It is also dan- 
gerous, however; it can be destructive, like waters which break the 
dams that hold them and submerge fields and gardens if the canal 
inspector is not there to keep the dams in repair: “Workmen with- 
out a foreman are waters without a canal inspector.”® 

Finally, a leaderless, unorganized crowd is useless and unpro- 
ductive, like a field which brings forth nothing if it is not plowed: 
“Peasants without a bailiff are a field without a plowman.”^ 

Hence an orderly world is unthinkable without a superior au- 
thority to impose his will. The Mesopotamian feels convinced 
that authorities are always right: “The command of the palace, 
like the command of Anu, cannot be altered. The king’s word is 
right; his utterance, like that of a god, cannot be changed!”® And, 
as there are circles of human authority in family, society, and 
state, to circumscribe the freedom of the individual, so there are cir- 
cles of divine authority which may not be trespassed upon. Here 
again we find more immediate and more remote ties of allegiance. 
For the ties of the individual to the great gods were — at least in the 
third millennium — of a somewhat remote character. He served 
them as a member of his community rather than as an individual; 
he worked their estates for them, with his neighbors and com- 
patriots he obeyed their laws and decrees, and he took part in their 
yearly festivals as a spectator. But, just as the serf rarely has in- 
timate personal relations with the lord of the manor, so the indi- 
vidual in Mesopotamia looked upon the great gods as remote forces 
to whom he could appeal only in some great crisis and then only 
through intermediaries. Close and personal relations — relations 
such as he had to the authorities in his family : father, mother, 
older brother and sister — the individual had only to one deity, to 
his personal god. 

The personal god was usually some minor deity in the pantheon 
who took a special interest in a man’s family or had taken a fancy 
to the man himself. In a sense, and probably this is the original 
aspect, the personal god appears as the personification of a man’s 
luck and success. Success is interpreted as an outside power which 
infuses itself into a man’s doings and makes them produce results. 
It is not man’s own ability which brings results, for man is weak 
and has no power to influence the course of the universe to any 


appreciable degree. Only a god can do that; therefore, if things 
come out as man has hoped, or even better, it must needs be that 
some god has taken an interest in him and his doings and brought 
him success. He has, to use the Mesopotamian expression for suc- 
cess, “acquired a god.” This original aspect of the personal god as 
the power behind a man’s success stands out quite clearly in such 
sayings as 

Without a (personal) god man cannot make his living, 
the young man cannot move his arm heroically in battle,® 

and in the way the personal god is linked with forethought and 

When thou dost plan ahead, thy god is thine; 
when thou dost not plan ahead, thy god is not thine.^ 

That is to say, only when you plan ahead do you have a chance to 
succeed; only then is your god with you. 

Since the personal god is the power which makes a man’s ac- 
tions succeed, it is quite natural that he or she should also carry the 
moral responsibility for those actions. When Lugalzaggisi, the 
ruler of Umma, had attacked and partly destroyed the city of La- 
gash, the men of Lagash placed the blame unhesitantly on Lugal- 
zaggisi’s deity: “May his personal deity, the goddess Nidaba, bear 
this crime on her neck!”® That is, may the proper divine author- 
ities who rule the universe hold her responsible for what she has 
aided and abetted. 

To this personal god, then, before any other, a man owed wor- 
ship and obedience. In every house there was a small chapel for the 
personal god where the owner of the house worshiped and brought 
his daily offerings. 

A man must truly proclaim the greatness of his god; 

A young man must wholeheartedly obey the command of his god.® 


Now, if this monotonous theme of obedience — to family, to 
rulers, to gods — ^was the essence of the good, that is, the correct, 
life in ancient Mesopotamia, what, we may ask, did man stand to 
gain by leading the good life.^ The answer is best given in terms of 
the Mesopotamian world view, in terms of man’s position in the 



cosmic state. Man, you will remember, was created to be the 
slave of the gods. He is their servant. Now, a diligent and obedient 
servant can call on his master for protection. A diligent and obedi- 
ent servant, moreover, can expect to be promoted, to receive 
favors and rewards from his master. A slothful, disobedient serv- 
ant, on the other hand, can hope for none of these things. Thus the 
way of obedience, of service and worship, is the way to achieve 
protection; and it is also the way to earthly success, to the highest 
values in Mesopotamian life: health and long life, honored stand- 
ing in the community, many sons, wealth. 

When we view the Mesopotamian universe from the aspect of 
what the individual can gain for himself, the personal god becomes 
a pivotal figure. He is the individual’s link with the universe and 
its forces; he is the Archimedean point from which it may be 
moved. For the personal god is not remote and awesome like the 
great gods; he is near and familiar; and he cares. One can talk to 
him, plead with him, work on his pity — in short, use all the means 
which a child uses to get his way with his parents. The character 
of the relationship may be exemplified by a letter from a man to 
his god, for the Mesopotamians frequently wrote letters to their 
gods. Perhaps they thought that one could not always be certain to 
fin d the god at home when one called, whereas the god would be 
sure to look at his correspondence. Again, it may often have been 
because the writer was too ill to come in person and therefore had 
recourse to a letter. In the case of the letter which we shall quote, 
it would appear that the writer refrains from coming in person be- 
cause he is sulking. His feelings are hurt because he thinks his god 
neglects him. He hints that such neglect is very unwise on the part 
of the god, for faithful worshipers are hard to get and difficult to 
replace. But if the god will only comply with his wishes, then he 
will be there right away and adore him. Finally, he works on the 
god’s pity: the god must consider that there is not only himself but 
that he has a family and poor little children who also suffer with 
him. The letter reads: 

To the god my father speak; thus says Apiladad, thy servant: 

“AVhy have you neglected me (so)? 

Who is going to give you one who can take my place? 


Write to the god Marduk, who is fond of 70U, 

that he may break my bondage; 

then I shall see your face and kiss your feet! 

Consider also my family, grownups and little ones; 

have mercy on me for their sake, and let your help reach me!”^® 

The bondage of which the letter speaks is some illness. Illness of 
any kind was seen as an evil demon who had seized the victim and 
held him captive. Such a case actually goes beyond the powers of 
the personal god. The personal god can help a man in his under- 
takings, can give him standing and respect in his community; but 
he is not strong enough to tear him from the clutches of an evil, 
lawless demon. However — and this is the most wonderful thing 
about having connections with those in high places— the personal 
god has influential friends. He moves in the circles of the great 
gods, knows them well. So now, when his ward has been seized by 
an evil demon, it is time to use whatever influence he has to set the 
cumbersome machinery of divine justice in motion; “Write to the 
god Marduk, who is fond of you,” says our letter. 

Now we who live in a modem state take for granted that the 
machinery of justice — courts, judges, police — is at the disposal of 
any man who considers himself wronged. But that is a very modem 
notion. We need go back only to medieval England to find a state 
in which it could be very difficult to get the king’s court to take up 
one’s case. And the early Mesopotamian state, upon which the cos- 
mic state was patterned, was of far more primitive cast than medi- 
eval England. In this primitive state there was as yet no developed 
executive machinery to carry out the verdict of the court. Execu- 
tion was left to die winning party; and for that reason a court 
would not touch a case unless it was certain that the plaintiff had 
power behind him, a powerful protector who would guarantee that 
the judgment would be executed. Accordingly, the first step for 
the personal god was to find such a protector among the great gods. 
Usually Ea, the god of the sweet waters, was willing to undertake 
the protectorship. But Ea was so august and remote that the per- 
sonal god would not approach him directly. He would go to Ea’s 
son, Marduk, and Marduk would then urge his father to act. If Ea 
agreed to act, he would send his messenger— a human incantation 
priest — to go with the personal god to the court of the gods, where 



the messenger would appeal on Ea’s behalf that the sun-god (the 
divine judge) accept this particular case for judgment. This appeal 
was directed to the rising sun in an impressive ceremony in the 
temple. After praising the sun as judge, as able to give legal relief 
against all kinds of demons and to heal the afflicted, the priest con- 

Sun-god, to relieve them is in thy power; 

thou dost set straight conflicting testimonies as (were they but) 
one statement. 

I am the messenger of Ea; 

for the relief of the plagued man he has sent me hither, 

(and) the message which Ea gave I have repeated to thee. 

(As for) the man, the son of his god, judge his case, pronounce sen- 
tence for him, 

drive off the evil illness from his body.^'- 

Through the decision of the sun-god, guaranteed by the mighty 
Ea, the evil demon was thus constrained to release its hold. 

The cases in which the personal god was asked to use his influ- 
ence to procure divine justice are among those most typical of his 
usefulness, but naturally he was asked to use it for general well- 
being and advancement also. He is to say a good word for his ward 
whenever he can; the ruler Entemena, for example, prays that his 
personal god be allowed to stand forever before the great god Nin- 
girsu, petitioning for health and long life for Entemena.^^ 

If we sum up, then, what our texts tell us about the rewards for 
the “good life,” we find life to be a pretty arbitrary affair. Through 
obedience and service man may win the good will of his personal 
god. The personal god may use his influence with the higher gods 
to obtain favors for his protege from them. But even justice is such 
a favor; it cannot be claimed, but it is obtained through personal 
connections, personal pressure, through favoritism. Even the most 
perfect “good life” held out but a promise, not a certainty, of 
tangible rewards. 


While the conception of the cosmic state remained relatively 
stable throughout the third millennium, the acmal human state de- 
veloped considerably. The central power grew stronger, the ma- 


ehinery of justice became more efficient, punishment followed 
crime with ever greater regularity. The idea that justice was some- 
thing to which man had a right began slowly to take form, and in 
the second millennium — appropriately the millennium of the fa- 
mous Code of Hammurabi — justice as right rather than justice as 
favor seems to have become the general conception. 

This idea, however, could not but conflict violently with the es- 
tablished view of the world. There emerged fundamental problems, 
such as the justification of death and the problem of the righteous 
sufferer. These two problems do not arise with equal clarity, but 
both have behind them an equally passionate urgency. 

A. The Revolt against Death: The Epic of Gilgamesh 

The less articulate, less rationalized, of the two was probably 
the revolt against death. We meet it as a smoldering resentment, a 
deep-seated feeling of wrong; it is more a feeling than a thought. 
Yet it can hardly be doubted that this feeling has its basis in the 
new concept of human rights, in the claim for justice in the uni- 
verse. Death is an evil — ^it is as harsh as any punishment, is, indeed, 
the supreme punishment. Why must a man suffer death if he has 
committed no wrong? In the old, arbitrary world this question had 
no sting, for both good and evil were arbitrary matters. In the new 
world of justice as a right it became terribly urgent. We find it 
treated in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which must have been composed 
around the beginning of the second millennium. This epic is based 
on older material, but the older stories have been woven into a 
new whole, grouped around a new theme, that of death. 

In his youthful energy, Gilgamesh, ruler of Uruk in southern 
Babylonia, drives his people too hard. The people appeal to the 
gods to create a counterpart to him, that they may compete with 
each other and the people may find rest. The gods comply and cre- 
ate Enkidu, who becomes Gilgamesh’s companion and friend. To- 
gether the friends set out on dangerous adventures. They pene- 
trate to “the cedar forest” in the west, where they slay the terrible 
monster Huwawa who guards the forest for Enlil. On their return 
the goddess Inanna falls in love with Gilgamesh, and, when he will 



have none of her, she sends the awesome “bull of heaven” against 
him to kill him. Here again, however, the two heroes conquer. 
They battle with, and kill, the bull. There seem to be no limits to 
their strength and power. Even the most terrible opponents go 
down before their weapons. They can afford to treat a mighty god- 
dess in the most arrogant fashion. Then Enlil decides that j^kidu 
must die as punishment for slaying Huwawa. So the unconquer- 
able Enkidu falls ill and dies. Until now death has meant little to 
Gilgamesh. He has accepted the normal standards of a fearless 
hero and the normal standards of his civilization; death is unavoid- 
able, and it is of no avail to worry about it; if one has to die, let his 
death be a glorious one, met in combat with a worthy opponent, so 
that his fame may live. Before the campaign against Huwawa, 
when Enkidu’s courage had failed him momentarily, Gilgamesh 
upbraided him sternly; 

Who, my friend, was ever so exalted (that he could) 
rise up to heaven and lastingly dwell with Shamash? 

Mere man — his days are numbered, 
whatever he may do, he is but wind. 

You are — already now — afraid of death. 

Where is the fine strength of your courage? 

Let me lead, 

and you (tarrying) can call out to me: “Close in, fear not!” 

And if I fall, I shall have founded fame. 

“Gilgamesh fell (they will say) in combat with terrible Huwawa.” 

He goes on to relate how in that case Enkidu will be telling Gil- 
gamesh’s son about his father’s prowess. Here death holds no ter- 
ror; it is part of the game, and it is mitigated to some extent by 
fame, for one’s name will live in future generations. 

But Gilgamesh then knew death only in the abstract. It had never 
touched him directly in all its stark reality. It does so when Enkidu 

“My friend, my younger brother — ^who with me in the 

hunted wild ass, and panther in the plains; 

Enkidu, my friend, my younger brother— who with me 
in the foothills 



hunted wild ass, and panther in the plains; 

who with me could do all, who climbed the crags, 

seized, killed the bull of heaven; 

flung down Huwawa, dwelling in the cedar forest. 

Now — ^what sleep is this that seized you? 

You have grown dark and cannot hear me.” 

He did not raise his eyes. 

(Gilgamesh) touched his heart, it was not beating. 

Then he covered his friend, as if he were a bride 

His voice roared out— -a lion . . . . , 
a lioness chased from her whelps. 

Again and then again he turned toward his friend, 
tearing his hair and scattering the tufts, 
stripping and flinging down the finery off his body. 

The loss which has been visited upon him is too great to bear. He 
refuses with all his soul to accept it as realitY- 

He who with me has shared all hazards — 
the fate of man has overtaken him. 

All day and night have I wept over him 

and would not have him buried — 

my friend might yet rise up at my (loud) cries, 

for seven days and nights — 

until a maggot dropped from his nose. 

Since he is gone, I can no comfort find, 
keep roaming like a hunter in the plains. 

The thought of death continues to haunt Gilgamesh. He has but 
one thought, one aim, to find everlasting life; and so he sets out 
upon his quest. At the end of the world, beyond the waters of 
death, lives an ancestor of his who obtained eternal life. He must 
know the secret. To him will Gilgamesh go. Alone he wanders the 
long way to the mountains where the sun sets, follows the dark 
passage through which the sun travels at night, almost despairing 
of ever seeing the light again, and finally comes out at the shore of 
a wide sea. Whomsoever he meets on his travels he questions about 
the way to Utnapishtim and about eternal life. All tell him the 
quest is hopeless. 

Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering? 

Life, which you look for, you will never find. 

For when the gods created man, they let 



death be his share, and life 
withheld in their own hands. 

Gilgamesh, fill your belly — 

day and night make merry, 

let days be full of joy, 

dance and make music day and night. 

And wear fresh clothes, 
and wash your head and bathe. 

Look at the child that is holding your hand, 
and let your wife delight in your embrace. 

These things alone are the concern of men. 

But Gilgamesh cannot give up, cannot resign himself to the com- 
mon lot. The yearning for everlasting life consumes him and drives 
him on. On the shore of the sea he meets Utnapishtim’s boatman 
and gains passage over the waters of death. Thus he finally finds 
Umapishtim and can ask him how one achieves eternal life; but 
Umapishtim cannothelphim. The fact that hehimselflives forever is 
due to unique circumstances that will never be repeated. When the 
gods in days of old had decided to destroy mankind and, led by 
Enlil, sent the flood, Umapishtim and his wife alone were res- 
cued. Umapishtim had been forewarned; he had built a big boat, 
and in that he had saved himself, his wife, and pairs of all living 
things. Later on, Enlil repented the sending of the flood as a rash 
act and gave Umapishtim eternal life as a reward for saving life 
on earth. But such circumstances obviously will not recur. 

Yet Gilgamesh may try to fight death. Umapishtim bids him 
contend with sleep, a magic sleep which is but another form of 
death. And Gilgamesh succumbs almost at once. He is about to 
perish when Umapishtim’s wife, out of pity on him, wakes him 
just in time. But the quest has failed. Dejected, Gilgamesh takes 
his departure to remrn to Uruk. At that moment, Umapishtim’s 
wife urges her husband to give him a parting gift, and Umapishtim 
tells Gilgamesh about a plant which grows on the bottom of the 
sea and which rejuvenates him who partakes of it. Once more the 
sagging spirits of Gilgamesh revive. Accompanied by Umapish- 
tim’s boatman, Urshanabi, he finds the right place, dives down, and 
comes up with the precious plant in his hands. Back they sail to- 
ward Uruk, reach die shore of the Persian Gulf, and continue in- 


land on foot. But the day is warm and the journey tiring. When 
Gilgamesh sees an invitingly cool pool, he flings off his clothes and 
goes in for a swim. The plant he leaves on the bank. And while it 
is lying there a snake smells it, comes out of its hole, and snatches 
it away. 

Therefore — because they ate of that plant — snakes do not die. 
When they become old, they slough off their old bodies and are re- 
born in youthful vigor. Mankind, cheated of Gilgamesh’s plant, 
cannot thus return eternally to youth; and Gilgamesh, full of bit- 
terness, contemplates the ironic end of his quest. 

Then Gilgamesh sat down and wept, 
tears streaming down his cheeks. 

“For whose sake, Urshanabi, have I strained my muscles? 

For whose sake has my heart’s blood been spent? 

I brought no blessing on myself — 

I did the serpent underground good service.” 

The Epic of Gilgamesh does not come to a harmonious end; the 
emotions which rage in it are not assuaged; nor is there, as in 
tragedy, any sense of catharsis, any fundamental acceptance of the 
inevitable. It is a jeering, unhappy, unsatisfying ending. An inner 
turmoil is left to rage on, a vital question finds no answer. 

B. The Righteous Sufferer: “Ludlul bee nemeqi”*® 

More articulate, more reasoned, and therefore less forceful in its 
expression is the rebellion against the general unjustness of the 
world. But — as we have already mentioned (p. 208 ) — it, too, has 
its basis in the swing from “justice as favor” to “justice as right” 
which precipitated the protest against death. 

As the human state grew more centralized and tightly organized, 
its policing grew more effective. Robbers and bandits, who had 
been an ever present threat, now became less of a menace, a less 
powerful element in daily life. This decrease of the power of hu- 
man robbers and bandits seems to have influenced the evaluation 
of the cosmic robbers and bandits, the evil demons. They loomed 
less large in the cosmic state. It has been pointed out by Von Soden 
that there was a subtle change in the concept of the personal god 



around the beginning of the second millennium. Before that time he 
had been thought to be powerless against demons who attacked his 
ward and had had to appeal to some great god for help. With the 
advent of the second millennium, however, the demons had lost 
power, so that the personal god was fully capable of protecting his 
human ward against them. If now they succeeded in an attack, it 
was because the personal god had mmed away in anger and had 
left his ward to shift for himself. Offenses which would anger a 
personal god came to include, moreover, almost all serious lapses 
from ethical and moral standards. 

With this change, minute as it may seem, the whole outlook on 
the world actually shifted. Man no longer permitted his world to 
be essentially arbitrary; he demanded that it have a firm moral 
basis. Evil and illness, attacks by demons, are no longer considered 
mere happenings, accidents : the gods, by allowing them to happen, 
are ultimately responsible, for only when an offense has been com- 
mitted should the personal god be angered and turn away. Thus in 
human moral and ethical values man had found a yardstick with 
which he presumptuously proceeded to measure the gods and their 
deeds. A conflict was immediately apparent. Divine will and hu- 
man ethics proved incommensurable. The stinging problem of the 
righteous sufferer emerged. 

We have several Mesopotamian treatments of this problem. 
Here, however, we shall deal only with the one best known, the 
composition called Ludlul bel nefneqi, “I will praise the lord of 
wisdom.” It is a counterpart of, though much inferior to, the Book 
of Job. The hero of the poem knows himself to have been righteous, 
to have lived the good life, but doubts about the value of living as- 
sail him: 

I only heeded prayer and supplication, 

my very thought was supplication, sacrifice habitual to me. 

The days when gods were worshiped were my heart’s delight, 
those when I followed (the procession) of the goddess were 
my gain and profit. 

Adoration of the king was joy to me, 
music for him a source of pleasure. 

And I instructed my estate to observe the ritual of the gods, 

I taught my people to revere the names of the goddess. 


Illustrious royal deeds I likened to (the deeds) of gods,^ 
and I taught soldiers to revere the palace. 

Would that I knew these things are pleasing to a god. 

For, in spite, of his righteousness, evils of the most serious kind 
have befallen him: 

^/z/-disease covers my body like a garment; 
sleep in a net enmeshes me; 
my eyes stare but see not, 
my ears are open, but hear not, 
weakness has seized my body. 

He laments that 

The lash laid upon me holds terror; 

I have been goaded, piercing is the sting. 

All day a persecutor chases me, 
at night he gives me no respite at all. 

His god has abandoned him: 

No god came to my aid, or grasped my hand, 
my goddess did not pity me or succor me. 

Everyone has already given him up for dead and acts accordingly: 

The grave was open still when they rifled my treasures, 
while I was not yet dead, already they stopped mourning. 

All his enemies are jubilant: 

My evil-wisher heard of it and his face brightened, 
to her who wished me evil they brought happy tidings 
and her liver felt good. 

And there the problem is, neatly posed: a man who has been 
righteous throughout may yet be dealt with by the powers who 
govern existence as though he were the blackest oflFender. For his 
pious deeds he has received the wages of the ungodly ; he has been 
treated like one 

Who has not bowed his face, is not seen to prostrate himself, 
from whose mouth prayers and supplication are barred. 

The reality of the problem cannot be disputed. The case of the 
righteous suifferer may be rare in such extreme form, yet none 
could be blind to its general validity. Righteousness, the good life, 



is no guaranty of health and happiness. Often, indeed, die unright- 
eous life seems a better way to success. 

Is there an answer? Our text gives two; one to the mind, which 
struggles with an intellectual problem; one to the heart, whose 
emotions have been stirred by contemplation of the wrongs done 
to this particular righteous sufferer. The answer to the mind is a 
denial that human standards of values can be applied to the gods. 
Man is too small, too limited in outlook, to pass judgment on things 
that are divine. He has no right to set up his human values against 
the values which the gods hold. 

What seems praiseworthy to one's self, is but contemptible be- 
fore the god(s), 

What to one’s heart seems bad, is good before one’s god. 

Who may comprehend the mind of gods in heaven’s depth? 

The thoughts of a god are like deep waters, who could fathom 

How could mankind, beclouded, comprehend the ways of gods? 

Human judgment cannot be true judgment, for man is a creature of 
the moment; he can take no long-range view, his mood changes 
from moment to moment, he cannot attain to the deeper under- 
standing which motivates the timeless and eternal gods. 

Who came to life yesterday, died today. 

In but a moment man is cast into gloom, suddenly crushed. 

One moment he will sing for joy, 

and in an instant he will wait — z mourner. 

Between morning and nightfall men’s mood may change: 
when they are hungry they become like corpses, 
when they are full they will rival their god, 
when things go well they will prate of rising up to heaven 
and when in trouble, rant about descending into Hades. 

What, therefore, is man’s judgment that he should presume to set it 
up against that of a god? 

But, though this stem non licet may satisfy the mind, may show 
that its question is not permissible, it will hardly satisfy the heart. 
Deep emotions have been stirred, a sense of bitter wrong has been 
evoked. And so to the heart our poem holds out as answer the duty 
to hope and to trust. The righteous sufferer did not remain in his 
sufferings. When all hope seemingly had fled, then came his deliv- 


erance; in his darkest hour the gods had mercy on him and turned 
to him full of goodness and light. Marduk restored him to health 
and dignity, purified him, and all was happiness again. Thus our 
poem is an encouragement to trust and hope. The ways of the gods 
may seem inexplicable to man, but that is because man lacks the 
deeper understanding which actuates the gods. And though man 
may be plunged in the deepest despair, the gods do not abandon 
him; he shall and must trust to their mercy and goodness. 

C. The Negation of All Values; A Dialogue of Pessimism'^* 

It is a well-known fact that, as a civilization grows old, its basic 
values are in danger of losing their hold upon the individuals who 
participate in it. Skepticism, doubt, and indifference begin to un- 
dermine the spiritual structure which comprises the civilization. 
Such skepticism toward all values, utter negation of the possibility 
of a “good life,” begins to make its appearance in Mesopotamian 
civilization in the first millennium b.c. This skepticism has found 
expression in a long dialogue between a master and his slave; it is 
known as the “Dialogue of Pessimism.” 

The pattern of the dialogue is extremely simple. The master an- 
nounces to the slave that he intends to do a particular thing, and 
the slave encourages him by enumerating all the pleasant aspects 
of what the master proposes. But by then the master has already 
tired of his idea and states that he will not do the thing in question. 
This, too, is praised by the slave, who enumerates all the darker 
sides of the proposed activity. In this manner all the typical activ- 
ties of a Mesopotamian nobleman are weighed and found wanting. 
Nothing is inherently good, nothing is worth while, whether it be 
seeking favors at court, the pleasures of the table, razzias against 
nomads in the desert, the excitement of a rebel’s life, the beginning 
of a lawsuit, or what not. We shall quote a few of the stanzas, 
first about love: 

“Servant, agree with me!” “Yes, my lord, yes!” 

“I will love a woman!” “So love, my lord, so love! 

The man who loves a woman forgets want and misery!” 

“No, slave, I will not love a woman!” 

“Love not, my lord, love not! 



Woman is a snare, a trap, a pitfall; 
woman is a sharpened iron sword 
which will cut a young man’s neck!” 

About piety: 

“Slave, agree with me!” “Yes, my lord, yes!” 

“Straightway order me water for my hands, 
and bring it hither. I will make a libation to my god!” 

“Do, my lord, do! (As for) the man who makes a libation 
to his god, his heart is at ease; 
he makes loan upon loan!” 

“No, slave, I will not make a libation to my god!” 

“Make it not, my lord, make it not! 

Teach the god to run after thee like a dog 

when he demands, be it ‘my service,’ be it ‘thou hast 

not asked,’ be it anything else, from thee.” 

In other words, “be uppish with the god”; let him feel that he de- 
pends upon you for service, for prayer, and for many other things, 
SO that he will run after you, begging you to worship him. 

No better than piety fares charity: 

“Slave, agree with me!” “Yes, my lord, yes!” 

“I say, I will give alms to my land!” 

“So do, my lord, so do! 

(As for) ihe man who gives alms to his land, 
his aims have been put on the palms of the god 
Marduk himself.” 

That is, it is as though Marduk himself received them and will re- 
ciprocate to the giver. 

“No, slave, I will not give alms to my land!” 

“Do it not, my lord, do it not! 

Mount thou upon the ruined mounds of ancient 
cities and walk around; 

behold the skulls of those of earlier and later times. 

Who is the evildoer, who is the benefactor?” 

It is all one whether man does good or evil; none will remember it 
in times to come. We know not who was good, who evil, among 
the ancients; they lie forgotten in their forgotten cities. 

And so the argument sums up: there is nothing which is truly 
good; all is, vanity.: 


“Slave, agree with me!” “Yes, my lord, yes!” 

“Now then, what is good? 

To break my neck and thy neck, 
to fall into the river — that is good!” 

With the world all vanity, only death seems attractive. The slave 
answers stoically with an ancient saying which expresses resig- 

“Who is tall enough to reach up to heaven; 
who is broad enough that he might encompass the earth?” 

If it is vain to seek for an absolute good, we might as well resign 
and give up; we cannot do the impossible. But once more the mas- 
ter changes his mind: 

“No, slave, I will kill only thee and let thee precede me!” 

“And would my lord want to live (even) three days after me?” 

asks the slave. If there is no profit in life, if nothing is good, if all 
is vanity, what benefit can the master possibly see in prolonging 
life? How can he suffer it for even three more days? 

And with this denial of all values, denial that a “good life” ex- 
isted, we end our survey of Mesopotamian speculative thought. 
Mesopotamian civilization with the values it embodied was about 
to lose its hold on man. It had run its course and was ready to give 
way before new and different, more vigorous, patterns of thought. 


1. STVC, 66 and 67; TRS, 15, Hth ki-ru-gi; 

2. RA XVII, p. 123, rev. iL, 14'“I5'. 

4. Ibid., 

5. p. 132; K4160, 1-3. 

6. 5rFCI, i, 15-18. 

7. XVII, p. 122, iii and iv, 5-8. 

8. Urukagina, Clay Tablet, 

9. STFCI, i, 1-4. 

10. YOS, 2, 141. 

11. Tablet III. 

'12. Entemena, Brick B. 

U, hmgdon, Babylonian Wisdom, 

14, pp. 67-81, 




Dhorme, Edouard. Les Religions de Babylonie et d'Assyrie. Paris, 1945, 

Hehn, Johannes. Die biblische und die babylonlsche Gottesidee. Leipzig, 1913. 
Heidel, Alexander. The Babylonian Genesis, Chicago, 1942. 

— , The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, C\xic 2 igo,, 19^6, 

Jacobsen, Thorkild. ‘‘Sumerian Mythology: A Review Article,” Journal of 
Near Eastern Studies, V (1946), 128-52. 

Kramer, Samuel N. Sumerian Mythology: A Study of Spiritual and Literary 
Achievement in the Third Millennium B,C. Philadelphia, 1944. 

Langdon, Stephen. Babylonian Wisdom London, 1923. 

Pallis, Svend Aa. The Babylonian AMtu Festival, Copenhagen, 1926. 

VON SoDEN, Wolfram. “Religion und Sittlichkeit nach den Anschauungen der 
Babylonier,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenldndischen Gesellschaft, Vol. 
LXXXIX (1935). 




I SRAEL came late into the course of oriental history. When the 
Hebrew tribes broke into Palestine in the fourteenth century 
B.c. in the invasion that was to prove the beginning of their career 
as a nation, the glory of Egypt was already waning. Her imperial 
greamess and her intellectual creativeness had become matters of 
the past. Shumer was but an echo of half-forgotten history, though 
its remarkable achievements had passed into the rich treasure of 
Semitic Babylonia. But of this, too, the great age was gone, save 
only as the glories of Hammurabi were later to be revived for a 
brief period by Nebuchadrezzar. By the time of Israel’s first great 
era of constructive thinking in the age of the prophets, Assyria 
had reached almost its zenith, soon to totter to its eternal doom. 
The fruitful period of Israel’s maturity, too often lightly dismissed 
as “late,” paralleled in time the greamess of the Achemenids in 
one direction and in the other the supremacy of Athenian leader- 
ship in the age of Pericles, later the career of Alexander, and then 
the dominance of Hellenism throughout the East. 

It is no surprise, then, to find that, heir as she consciously and 
obviously was of the achievements of the Orient and continuing 
her vigor into what we commonly speak of as the classical age, 
Israel’s intellectual life bridges two worlds. Her primitivism is 
apparent, perhaps the most striking feature brought into relief 
by the critical studies of the last hundred years. It would serve no 
good end to delay over it here; suffice it that a large portion of 
the concepts surveyed in die preceding chapters find their parallels, 
if not direct survivals, in Israel’s outlook on the world. It is clear 
that the founders of the Hebrew nation and their heirs and suc- 
cessors for many generations brought with them and continued to 
live in the pervasive thought-life of the world of their times. 

But if this were all or even the significant aspect of Hebrew 
thinking, there would be no occasion for discussing it in this book. 
Israel was a small nation, relatively unimportant among the pow- 



ers of the ancient East; in so far as she conformed to the pattern of 
her contemporaries she has now no better claim on our attention 
than have Edom, Moab, and Damascus. We do scant justice to his- 
toric reality — indeed, we fail completely to understand the genius 
of Israel — if we do not recognize wherein, and the extent to which, 
she differed from her neighbors and contemporaries, great and 
small alike. For rooted and molded in the cultures of the ancient 
East, Israel yet far transcended them and attained a world of 
thinking and of concepts much like our own. The differences of 
kind that separate us are much less than those that set Israel off 
from the peoples with whom she was in close contact, both in 
space and in time. Or, to put it in other terms, the boundary be- 
tween the ancient world and the modern is to be traced, not in the 
Aegean or the middle Mediterranean, but in the pages of the Old 
Testament, where we find revealed Israel’s attainments in the 
realms of thought, her facility in literary expression, her profound 
religious insights, and her standards of individual and social 

Israel’s great achievement, so apparent that mention of it is al- 
most trite, was monotheism. It was an achievement that trans- 
formed subsequent history. Our indebtedness at this day is evident 
on a moment’s thought. With some entail of that danger always 
implicit in superlatives one may raise the question whether any 
other single contribution from whatever source since human cul- 
ture emerged from the stone ages has had the far-reaching effect 
upon history that Israel in this regard has exerted both through the 
mediums of Christianity and Islam and directly through the world 
of Jewish thinkers themselves. In the other direction Israel’s 
uniqueness in this regard in the ancient world has been richly im- 
plied by the previous chapters in this book. Over against the poly- 
theistic namralism of Babylonia and the confused “consubstantial” 
ideas of the Egyptian pantheon, Israel affirmed, “The Lord our 
God, the Lord is one”; “All the gods of the nations are vanities, 
but the Lord made the world.” Traditional dogmas have robbed the 
Hebrew thinkers of their proper due through a doctrine of divine 
revelation which has lifted the achievement out of human cate- 
gories of thought. But our funaion here, while not calling in ques- 



tion the former, is to show the reality of the latter and to appraise 
the achievement of Israel’s speculative thinkers. 

The story of this achievement is one of the contentious issues of 
Hebrew history. Was Abraham a monotheist? Or did this concept 
come into Hebrew history with Moses? What was the faith of 
Samuel, of David, of Amos? On all such questions students of the 
Old Testament fall into diverse camps. And certainly this is not the 
place to undertake adjudication of issues that have occupied whole 
monographs. A few general comments, and then an apparently 
dogmatic decision, will serve our present needs. That the ancient 
East showed trends toward a monotheistic faith is a familiar idea. 
Further, it conforms to all that we know of Israel’s genius and her 
historic relations to believe that from the first her thinkers were 
more or less aware of these movements of thought. It is neither 
shocking nor novel to admit that Israel’s monotheism was evi- 
dently in some way built on these older attempts. But, on the other 
hand, even the best of them fell far short of what Israel came to be- 
lieve. I have the assurance of Professor Wilson that, whatever one 
is to say of the still unsolved problem of Akhnaton’s alleged 
monotheism, it was at the best quite different from and inferior to 
Israel’s. Even if we should accept the middle course, however 
dubious, of assuming that Moses was the father of Israel’s mono- 
theism and that he worked in full consciousness of this great Egyp- 
tian heresy, yet the differences between the two are such as to 
compel the conclusion that he thus brought into being a new thing 
in human history. And certainly this view is not weakened if we 
prefer the view more commonly held among critical scholars that 
monotheism was the crowning achievement of the prophetic age, 
wrought out in the very time when the brute might of Assyria was 
overrunning the world and threatening the extinction of Hebrew 

However all this may be, even if we were obliged to qualify the 
belief that in the opening oracles of the Book of Amos we actually 
see Israel’s monotheism taking its nascent form right under our 
eyes, yet at least the passage reveals the sort of thinking that cer- 
tainly at some time led to Israel’s great discovery. The words are 


Thus saith the Lord, 

, For three transgressions of Damascus 

and for four I will not turn back its punishment, 

J because they have threshed Gilead 

with threshing sleds of iron; 
but I will send fire into the house of Hazael 
and it shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad [Amos 1 : 3-4] . 

And thus in reiterated phraseology the prophet moves round, as in 
the swing of a scythe of destiny, from Damascus to Gaza, to 
Tyre, to Edom and Ammon and Moab, before coming at length 
to his own people. It is the accepted critical view that the list has 
been somewhat expanded since Amos’ day; but the reduction so 
•' demanded does not affect the basic significance of the passage. 
: Two things stand out for present consideration. Note how the ac- 
! cepted limitations of the thought of the prophet’s time have been 
f ignored or transcended. Here is no little national god minding his 
' own business strictly behind the borders or at most the military 
' outreach of his own people. Indeed, one may speculate on the 
absurdity of Amos’ position, as it must have seemed to his contem- 
poraries, and most of all to the foreign lands here so boldly casti- 
gated by this peasant spokesman of a petty deity. What had the 
: God of Israel to do with Damascus, the power that for a hundred 
years had wasted and ravaged his land, had enslaved and despoiled 
; and brutally maltreated his people, while he looked on impotent? 
i How well the “practical” men of the time might scoff! But indif- 
ferent to all alleged lack of realism and logic, Amos swept on 
: round Israel’s land with words of rebuke for all these neighbor and 
' enemy countries. Here, then, is our first observation: the “national 
god” concept is for Israel broken and discarded. The God of 
Israel is a being who has powers and responsibilities and authority 
, over all the lands of Israel’s neighbors. We must admit notable 
. exceptions from the list. There is nothing here about Egypt, not a 
word of Assyria or of Urartu, whichever seemed to Amos’ day 
the dominant power. The list concerns only the principalities 
round about Israel. But the prophet has gone too far to stop here; 
he has set out on a line of thought that has no proper boundaries 
short of attributing to Yahweh universal rule. And, indeed, in fur- 
! ther oracles of his book Amos introduces some nameless nation 



of his age in a role of divine judgment that implies the Lord’s 
dominion far out also into the midst of the great powers of the 

But this in itself could be of little more significance than the ori- 
ental trends toward monotheism already mentioned. Monotheism 
in itself may be no more than despotism in religion. The great 
achievement of Israel was not primarily that she asserted the one- 
ness of the world and of God, but rather the character of the God so 
affirmed. Amos’ thought goes beyond a mere implication of the 
supremacy of his God. The Lord’s coming punishment of Israel’s 
neighbors is for moral reasons. Damascus and Ammon have prac- 
ticed barbarities in war; Tyre and Gaza have inhumanly sold 
whole peoples into slavery; and so the indictment runs on. Now, all 
these practices were standard, accepted conduct in the eighth cen- 
tury B.c. Once more the scoffer might have found occasion to 
jeer: this common peasant getting himself excited over what 
everyone was doing! The independence of Amos’ thinking here evi- 
denced is of less importance for us, however, than his moral judg- 
ment. The nations are condemned for the depravity of their mor- 
als. And here is the point: they are so condemned in the name of the 
God of Israeli It is his righteousness, be it observed, not his might 
or his glory or any other of the divine qualities prized in the time, 
which provides the ground of his supremacy. Here we see the 
meaning of that phrase so commonly employed in the study of He- 
brew history: Israel’s monotheism was an ethical monotheism. 

Those who sat in the history classes of the late James H. Breast- 
ed will recall his treatment of the alleged solar monotheism of 
Egypt of the fourteenth century b.c. He pointed out that it came 
as the culmination of a cenmry of Egyptian imperialism. In his 
phrase, this “monotheism was imperialism in religion.” The 
Egyptian sun-worshiper leaving his narrow valley found the same 
sun shining not only in the hills of Palestine and Syria but also 
in the upper valley of the Nile beyond the traditional limits of 
Egypt; and so he was impelled to conclude that there was but one 
sun, hence, sun-god. It appears to be a comparable process that we 
see working itself out, first in the mind of Amos, and then becom- 
ing the accepted faith of all the prophets and later of the nation. 
The standards of decency and honor and htunan compassion which 


were valid and prized among individuals in the little communities 
of Palestine did not cease their high demands when one stepped 
over the boundary into Syria or Philistia; but there alike men were 
human, with human needs and, consequently, with human stand- 
ards. Amos would have denied emphatically the light assertion of 
certain folk of easy morals in our day that “east of Suez” there 
“ain’t no Ten Commandments.” Indeed, in one famous passage 
which again wimesses the incredible vigor of thought of this simple 
peasant, Amos does more than imply, he asserts in unmistakable 
language the common human bond among diverse and remote 

Are you not as the Ethiopians to me, 

O children of Israel, says the Lord; 

Did I not bring up Israel 
from the land of Egypt; 

and the Philistines from Caphtor, 
and the Syrians from Kir? [Amos 9:7.] 

The Negroes of central Africa, and Israel’s two traditional ene- 
mies, the Philistines on one side and the Syrians on the other, as hu- 
man beings stood on the same footing as the “chosen people” them- 
selves. The passage is a valuable commentary on the judgments 
found in chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Amos, for it might be 
claimed that some at least of these are partisan in their motivation 
— that Amos thunders his denunciations because his own people 
were the sufferers. But even in that list of divine judgments there 
are some that cannot be disposed of so lightly; and this utterance 
about God’s care of the Philistines and Syrians serves to corrob- 
orate what one may deduce there. The basis of Amos’ moral 
thinking is a sense of common humanity. 

And this, it will be observed, is carried over into the concept 
of the nature of God: God utters his judgments upon cruelty and 
inhumanity. Now this is a line of thought that was to receive no- 
table development in the course of time and to provide one of the 
distinctive aspects of the Hebrew outlook on the world. Notwith- 
standing the notable passages we have mentioned and others not 
less worthy of remark, Amos appears in the record we have of him 
somewhat as a stern moralist. He is a prophet of impending doom ; 
he utters the judgments of God upon a careless and selfish people. 



Only at one or two points do his pronouncements leave room for 
argument that at heart he cherished a deep hope for the reforma- 
tion and salvation of his people. But when we move on to his im- 
mediate successor, if not younger contemporary, all is changed. 
Though Hosea was not less concerned with the ruin that social 
selfishness was bringing upon the nation, yet his mood is emotional 
rather than judicial. He is a man of deep affection and tender mo- 
tivation. It is he who has left for us that striking and charming pic- 
ture of God as a loving father leading his people as though holding 
the hand of a toddling infant in its first uncertain steps : 

I taught Ephraim to walk; 

I took them in my arms .... 
with human bonds I drew them, 

with cords of love 

How shall I give you up, Ephraim; 

how shall I let you go, Israel? 

My heart turns within me; 

all my tenderness is kindled. 

1 will not perform my fierce anger, 

I will not turn about to destroy Ephraim; 

For I am God and not man [Hos. 11:3-4, 8-9] . 

Also we recall die famous passage with which the Book of 
Jonah closes. The ill-tempered prophet wanted the great city de- 
stroyed just to “save his face” as a predictor; but the Lord re- 
buked him. “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, that great 
city, in which are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people 
who know not their right hands from their left; and also many 
cattle?” (Jon. 4: 11.) One thinks, too, of the words: 

Like as a father pitieth his children 
so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. 

For he knoweth our frame; 
he remembereth that we are dust [Ps. 103 : 1 3-14] . 

And the corollary and complement of all is represented by an equal- 
ly famous passage, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all 
thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). 
Here we see what may well be adjudged the culmination of Israel’s 
monotheistic achievement: the one God of the universe is a God 
of righteousness, but still more he is a God of love: “His tender 


mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9). The significance of 
this in the long sequel of history a moment’s thought will suffice to 
show. And the revolutionary nature of Israel’s discovery is suffi- 
ciently evident by reference to the chapters by Professors Wilson 
and Jacobsen; in their surveys of Egypt and Babylonia, to the 
question of the attitude of the gods toward humankind, they point- 
ed out that, while these could on occasion be most beneficent, on 
the whole their relation with man was little better than one of indif- 
ference. They had their own concerns, and only by special effort 
could they be induced to turn aside to the troublesome interrup- 
tions of mundane affairs. And this is a problem that has tormented 
human thought throughout the centuries. It is said that a religious 
thinker of the past generation, when asked what inquiry he would 
make of the Sphinx if assured that it would answer truly just a sin- 
gle question, replied, “Is the Universe friendly to me?” It was a 
profound insight; for man’s most poignant question throughout all 
ages has been “What is my place in a world of great and seemingly 
callous might?” And Israel’s great attainment was the vision that 
we may walk this earth with the confident tread of a son in his 
father’s house. 

Implicit in monotheism is a movement toward transcendence. 
And in Israel’s monotheism it was inevitable. A God such as en- 
visaged by Israel must be exalted in divine quality far above puny 
man, above this earth, and above all that is of the earth and earthy. 
A pregnant symbol of the many expressions of this throughout the 
Old Testament is the great vision of Isaiah; he “saw the Lord 
seated upon a throne high and lifted up, and his train filled the 
temple. Above him were the seraphim .... and one cried unto 
another and said. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the 
whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresh- 
old shook at the voice of him who cried and the house was filled 
with smoke” (Isa. 6: 1-5). Israel’s characteristic thought of God 
was that he was awful in holiness, terrible in righteousnes. And on 
this side of the vast gulf in quality that separated him from the 
divine stood man, frail mortal and sinful, whose best righteous- 
nesses were in the light of that pure countenance “but as filthy 
rags.” This will make clear one reason why Israel abhorred apothe- 
osis, whether of the king or of any other; for the Hebrew thinkers 



God was in heaven, and man below. This provides also the basis 
of their concept of sin, on both of which topics more must be said 

Such, then, was the Hebrew view of the nature of the world. 
At its center there sat enthroned a Being of unutterable greamess 
and holiness, who was at once its creator and sustainer. But Israel 
never went the distance of abstracting this One into a cold and re- 
mote absolute. It is of the very essence of Hebrew thought that 
God is a person. The I-Thou relation in which primitive man saw 
his natural environment was maintained, no, rather, was sublimat- 
ed, in Israel’s faith: the world was to be understood in terms of 
personality. Its center and essence was not blind force or some 
sort of cold, inert reality but a personal God. And for them per- 
sonality meant the sort of concept that they, and we, in turn, ap- 
ply to human nature. 

Now a person, so understood, can be in only one place at any 
one given time. Yet our uncertain ideas of extrasensory perception 
provide an analogy to Israel’s thought at this point; for God had, as 
it were, extensions of his personality so that he could reach out 
into many places. His proper abode was, for later thought at least, 
in the heavens, where he sat on a throne of majesty, surrounded by 
the host of his ministrants. But from him went out powers com- 
parable with the somewhat later notion of emanations . By his spirit 
or by his word, he accomplished his purposes. And in the course of 
time still other mediums of his activity were conceived. 

Yet, even so, the religious demand for the omnipresence of God 
was not met. In earlier times, it would appear, there was a belief 
in a sort of differentiation of localized manifestations of God. 
Thus Absalom, while in Geshur, vowed a vow to the Yahweh in 
Hebron (or so he claimed as part of his scheme of revolt) and, in 
course of time, went away from the official shrine in Jerusalem in 
order to pay this vow in Hebron. Such appears to be the implica- 
tion also of the assurance that “in every place where I record my 
name will I come unto thee and bless thee” (Exod. 20:24). It is 
difficult to see how in that time such local manifestations of the 
deity could fail to be credited with diverse qualities dependent on 
the nature of such manifestations and so to assume almost the 
status of separate personalities. It would seem, too, that we are to 


recognize a handling of the problem in the famous vision in chap- 
ter i of the Book of Ezekiel. It describes a remarkable structure on 
which the God of Israel came down out of the north along the road 
which his people had taken in their mournful journey into cap- 
tivity; and there he, too, came seeking his lonely, heartsick exiles. 

So far as this goes, then, it indicates that Israel’s answer was in 
freeing God of die limitations of fixed abode: He could leave his 
house and go where necessity of whatever sort called him. Yet it 
is apparent that such explanation will not take account of all Is- 
rael’s thought. For while to the devout even of the later time God 
was in his holy temple, yet he could and would hear the prayer of 
his people afar in Palestine or in the lands of the dispersion. Appar- 
ently this was in large measure accomplished by an extension of 
the divine personality or of the divine powers so that God could 
hear, see, and act at a distance which for man was quite out of con- 
sideration. For practical purposes of religious faith the result was 
not unlike the later concept of the immanence of God. 

The substance and feamres ascribed to this cosmic Person are 
not clearly grasped; indeed, it is probable that Hebrew thought 
recoiled from the question. This at least seems certain, however, 
that the Person was conceived of as possessing a quasi-human 
form. There can be no doubt that such is the meaning of the ac- 
count in the creation stories where man was made in the image of 
God; and a large number of other passages corroborate the view. 
Many of these are poetic and in their details must be discounted as 
mere symbolism; still so much is an irreducible minimum. But the 
divine substance is far from certain. It was a later teacher who de- 
clared that “God is a spirit”; yet the belief is not diverse from that 
of the Old Testament. But what was a spirit? It could flit about here 
and yonder, could suddenly appear or disappear, could exercise 
superhuman powers; but none of this is determinative, for we find 
that certain human beings could do the same. One thinks, for exam- 
ple, of the stories of Elijah and Elisha. For popular thought of our 
day, a spirit presumably is a personality without a material body. 
But it is far from clear that such was an ancient concept. We recall 
Paul’s discussion of spiritual bodies, apparently composed of some 
nonearthly substance (I Cor. 15: 35-58). Whether, then, the He- 
brews conceived of spirit as a finer kind of matter, as in certain 



strands of Greek thought, is not apparent. We find considerable use 
of the imagery of fire relevant to the person and appearances of 
God. But it would be bold to claim then that Israel thought of 
God as possessing a body made up of some sort of celestial fire. 
And with that we must dismiss the problem. 

However, another question comes into consideration at this 
point. In proportion as God is exalted in transcendent holiness and 
power, he is removed from human approach. A comparison with 
concepts of the manlike God of earlier time will make this clear. 
God came down and walked in the garden and talked with the 
guilty pair; he accepted Abraham’s hospitality one afternoon as 
he journeyed across the Judean hills; he informed Noah of the 
coming flood, and, when the latter had obeyed the divine warning 
and gone into the ark, he shut the door. Hosts of similar incidents 
will suggest themselves. Briefly, such a God was so close and ap- 
proachable that one never knew at what casual moment, coming 
suddenly round a comer, he might meet him face to face. The sig- 
nificance of this for religious faith is obvious. But the transcendent 
God is remote. Furthermore, he is preoccupied with his mighty 
concerns. How can frail man hope that such a one will be interested 
in the needs and hopes and fears of a tiny spark of animated dust? 
It is a problem that higher religion carries implicit in its advance. 
As man exalts God in transcendent quality, at the same time he 
pushes him steadily farther off from human need. It will serve the 
purpose of orientation for us to realize that to serve just this prob- 
lem is one of the functions of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. 
Obviously this was not the formulated solution of ancient Israel. 
To some extent, however, Israel employed the device of inter- 
mediaries between God and the world; the angels which became 
highly characteristic of later thought are one manifestation of 

But much more important in its historic significance is the use 
made by the sages of the concept of the divine wisdom through 
which God made the world and by which he deals with men. It is 
a matter that will call for more extended treatment presently; for 
the present we must be content merely to mention it as of rele- 
vance at this point. Clearly, however, the characteristic Hebrew 
treatment of this problem was just the affirmation that the God 


who is transcendent in holiness, enthroned afar, is yet very near 
to each devout soul and attentive to the need of his people. It is thus 
that the psalmists individually cry to the Lord for help and cele- 
brate the answer to their prayers. No need for them to invoke in- 
termediaries — ^whether priest or angel or divine being: the Lord 
was a God of loving-kindness and tender mercy. He kept eternal 

watch above his own; “The Lord is thy keeper He will not 

suffer thy foot to be moved Thou shalt not fear for the 

terror by night nor for the arrow that flieth by day” (Ps. 121 : 3, 
5; 91:5). 

Revolutionary as much of this was in the history of human 
thinking, yet, in surveying it, one is conscious of a certain impa- 
tience to get on to the basic problem that confronts us in this dis- 
cussion: What were the processes of thought by which Israel 
came to such views? Rooted in the past as she was, intimately a 
part of the culmre of the ancient world and heir of its thought, it 
is apparent at once that such wide divergence unavoidably implies 
bold and vigorous thinking, not by a few individuals, by but a 
long succession of them through the nation’s history. Our inherited 
doctrine of divine inspiration has functioned to obscure this in- 
escapable conclusion. We must later take note of the understand- 
ing of this mystery that Israel’s own thinkers held, and we shall 
see that it effectively spans the gulf between the seemingly irrecon- 
cilable opposites of the dilemma. Israel could be the medium of di- 
vine revelation and yet could in the same act preserve her intel- 
lectual independence; indeed, only because of the latter could the 
former be realized. For the moment, however, the important con- 
cern is the searching criticism which Israel applied to the thought 
that she inherited from and shared with her world. Creative skep- 
ticism was at home in this profoundly religious people. Here is the 
seeming paradox that a people, freely recognized as supremely 
religious people of the ancient world, at the same time were with- 
out a peer in the power and scope of their critical intellectualism. 
But indeed it is not paradoxical, for religion that is not criticized 
quickly deteriorates into mere superstition. It was only by virme 
of their skeptical mood that the Hebrew thinkers were able to at- 
tain a view of die world that still shapes our outlook. 



This critical mood is well manifested in Israel’s attitude to the 
pagan gods and their symbols. While deeply dependent on the 
mythology of their contemporaries, the Hebrew thinkers yet came 
to repudiate the reality of the symbols in which these clothed the 
physical reality of the world. We know very little of the story, 
doubtless of protracted question and debate, that lies back of Is- 
rael’s attainment of this uniqueness in the ancient world. There is 
some reason to believe that it rests ultimately in a deep moral con- 
viction. The religions of Canaan, ornate as they were with divine 
symbols in public worship and private shrines, were in large meas- 
ure characterized by the features of so-called nature worship. And 
everyone knows what this has inevitably entailed. Canaanite wor- 
ship of the forces of life meant public immorality as a sacred rite 
and commonly of a disgusting depravity. 

It is true that Israel in considerable measure gave herself for a 
time to this as the accepted means of securing die increase of the 
fields and of flocks and herds; we recall the reiterated complaint 
that they “forgot the Lord their God and went after the Baals 
and Ashtoreth.” Yet there were, even in early times, and increas- 
ingly with the passing of the centuries, men who stood aloof and 
condemned the thing for the depravity that it was. It is such moral 
revulsion that speaks in the prophetic warnings and denunciations 
where we commonly meet the scathing summary of this whole 
system of religion: “Upon every high hill and under every green 
tree thou didst bow thyself playing the harlot” (Jer. 2:20). It 
was apparently, then, a deep ethical motivation that at length found 
expression in the dogma now familiar but in its cultural environ- 
ment of astonishing radicalism: “Thou shalt not make unto thee 
any graven image nor any likeness of anything that is in the heav- 
ens above or in the earth beneath or in the waters that are under 
the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them nor serve 
them” (Exod. 20:4-5). And, be it observed, the passage runs on, 
“For the Lord thy God is a jealous God.” All was gathered up in 
Israel’s theological uniqueness and in her consciousness of that 
uniqueness. The righteousness and holiness of God imposed upon 
the Israelite an exacting standard of action and thought and, in 
turn, revealed the depravity of pagan religion, however pompous 
or ancient. ^^ ^ ^ ^ 


Such is the mood that finds notable expression in a term em- 
ployed especially by Isaiah. For him the gods of the nations were 
“nothingnesses” — so we render his contemptuous word. But in its 
original form it appears to have a much deeper force. He called 
them ^elilim, which, it has been suggested, is nothing else than a 
Hebrew corruption of the name of the great god of ancient Shumer, 
whose might and attributes were carried over into Semitic Baby- 
lonia; Enlil is held up to contempt by this bold thinker of little 
Israel as a thing nonexistent, no, rather as the very symbol and es- 
sence of insignificance and nonexistence. But what was on this 
view only implicit in Isaiah’s choice of a term was developed folly 
by the great prophet of the Exile, whom, for lack of better infor- 
mation, we call Second Isaiah. With biting wit that might do credit 
to Lucian, he laughs the great gods of Babylon out of countenance. 
He had watched the sacred New Year procession; he had seen, for 
the pious but benighted Babylonian, a profound mystery taking 
place under the eyes of the beholder as Marduk and Nabu went 
out in solemn pilgrimage to the Akitu house, there to settle the 
fates of the incoming year; he had wimessed the annual festival in 
which Marduk triumphed over all his foes, cosmic and terrestrial, 
and himself died that life might once more return to the world. 
But this critical Jew saw, not the mystery of an ancient Mass, but a 
solemn farce: two great hulks of dead matter nearly breaking the 
backs of suffering brutes condemned to carry the weight of alleged 

Bel stoops; Nabu leans! 

Their idols are on beasts, on cattle; 

what you revere is loaded up, 
a burden to the weary [Isa. 46:1]. 

Again, with like sarcasm, he ridicules the entire faith and vogue 
of idols: one cuts a tree for firewood, using it for heating and for 
cooking; but still a sizeable piece remains, until as an afterthought 
it is given to a craftsman who, with a deal of labor, shapes it into 
a pretense of human form — and then men bow down to it and say, 
“Deliver me, for thou art my god!” (Isa. 44:9-17.) What useful 
material is a stick of wood, he seems to say. You can cook your 
meals with it, you can heat your house, and, if any is left, you can 



make a god to which you may pour out the deepest aspirations of 
your soul! All alike wood! 

Yet all such thought might well seem no more than a sort of 
sublimated national bigotry. The crucial question is whether Is- 
rael’s thinkers could apply the same rigid standards of criticism 
to their own inherited dogmas, in particular to those of the na- 
ture, attributes, and activity of Yahweh himself. Their intellectual 
attainment will be realized only when we admit fully, as the evi- 
dence demands, that Hebrew religion achieved freedom from an 
idolatry (to use a common term) similar to that of the rest of the 
ancient East — Yahweh was, through the earlier period of the na- 
tion’s life in Palestine, worshiped in physical form, just as Marduk 
or Amon or any of the rest of them in their lands. It argues much, 
then, of the intellectual vigor and independence of generations of 
unknown Hebrew thinkers that still far back in the nation’s his- 
tory the invisibility of Yahweh had become a dogma of the ortho- 
dox religion. In full repudiation of the power and mystic realism of 
symbols a writer in Deuteronomy argues that even in the personal 
presence of their God, manifest in the great theophany on Sinai, no 
physical form was apparent but only an invisible presence felt in 
power and in religious perception: 

The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of words, 
but ye saw no form; only ye heard a voice. And he declared unto you his cove- 
nant, which he commanded you to perform Take ye therefore good heed 

unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of form on the day that the Lord spoke 
unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire; lest ye corrupt yourselves, and 
make you a graven image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or fe- 
male .... and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven and when thou seest the 
sun and the moon and the stars, even the whole host of heaven, thou be drawn 
away and worship them and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath allotted 
unto all the peoples under the whole heaven” [Deut. 4:12-19]. 

How characteristic of Israel’s religion diis feature became is so 
well known to us that its force is in danger of being blunted. But 
for the contemporary world it was heresy of the first order, such, 
in fact, as to set the Hebrews oflF as a peculiar people in a sense 
quite different from what their own thinkers boasted. An aspect of 
this is portrayed by a dramatic incident of a later time. When 
Pompey in 63 b.c. stormed Jerusalem, he forced his way into the 


Holy of Holies, much to the horror of the Jews, in order to see for 
himself what was the inmost secret of this unusual religion. And 
there he found — we all know what: nothing but an empty room! 
The perplexity of this leader from the image-ridden West, stand- 
ing in the presence of a mystery that still evaded him, is a true 
symbol of Israel’s place in the ancient world: a place that might 
well be equally unique in the modem, save for our debt to Israel 

But Israel’s heterodoxy did not stop here. The very existence of 
her God came in for critical examination. Only so, it would seem, 
was the certitude of orthodoxy attained; when questions of his 
reality and his namre had been honestly met, then, and then only, 
could the best thinkers affirm: “All the gods of the nations are 
vanities; but the Lord made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5). The full 
story of this intellectual quest is not preserved; we are dependent 
in considerable part on casual allusions, but fortunately also we 
possess some more formal discussions of the problem. One familiar 
expression of the skeptical mood reveals a group of thinkers who 
had gone far to the left in their conclusions. The orthodox, as al- 
ways, despised the skeptical as “fools”; and so we read, “The 
fool has said in his heart. There is no God” (Pss. 14:1, 53:1). 
Our accepted exegesis of this bold denial is that it means only a 
repudiation of divine activity in human affairs, since, so it is said, 
the Hebrews never doubted the existence of God. But surely such 
reasoning does little credit to our intellectual integrity; could 
there be a worse case of prejudging an issue? The words, both in 
English and in Hebrew, say as clearly as can be, “God does not 

It is quite possible that these bold heretics arrived at their con- 
clusion through a failure to see any evidence of divine participation 
in current affairs; but certainly they reached a denial of the reality 
of God. It may be that they anticipated modern atheists who see no 
need of a God, since the world is getting along tolerably well 
without one. Indeed, this is the implication of the criticism turned 
against them by the pious author of the psalm: when God looks 
down to see if there are any wise, he finds godless oppressors who 
“know nothing” and consequently “eat up [his] people as they eat 
bread.” Still, the writer proceeds, though these folk are subject 



to great terror, they lack wisdom— they cannot read meaning in 
their disturbing experiences. Then, as though thinking of unmis- 
takable evidence of the reality of God, he concludes with a pious 
wish that the salvation of God would come out of Zion. 

Comparable to this heresy are the musings of a thinker who re- 
lates his search for evidence on which to base the grandiose claims 
of orthodoxy, but all he found was emptiness and his own frustra- 
tion. To understand the fine flavor of his barbed cynicism, we must 
attend even to his introduction in which, with assumed pomposity, 
he mocks the very words of prophetic announcements : 

The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, the prophetic utterance, the oracle of a 
mere man, Le^ithiel (i.e., “I have straggled with God and have prevailed”): 

Indeed I am a sub-human brute; 

I have not the intelligence of a man. 

I have not learned wisdom 

nor attained knowledge of holy things. 

Who was it that went up to heaven and came down 

Who gathered the wind in his fist? 

Who bound the waters in his garment? 

Who set firm the limits of the earth? 

What is his name, and what his son's name? 

For you know [Prov. 30 : 1-4] . 

Little need be said in exposition of the passage. It will be appar- 
ent how the writer scoffs, not alone at the prophets with their bold 
claim of direct knowledge of the unseen, but at the priests, who 
proclaimed proficiency in holy things, and at the wise men, also, 
with their confidence in intelligence and wisdom. By contrast 
all he will assert is his humanity; indeed, worse, he must be a 
brute, for he knows nothing of all these boasted attainments. But 
where, he asks, is empirical evidence for such claims? Who went 
up to heaven and saw all this with his own eyes? Then, listing the 
cosmic ascriptions with which orthodoxy loved to embellish the 
might of God, he poses the troublesome query: “Where is the ob- 
jective evidence on which this imposing structure of faith (or cre- 
dulity) is reared?” With biting irony he turns to his pious contem- 
poraries, and, leaving them in full possession of the field of dispute 
as with a bow of mock humility, we can imagine, he asks simply: 
“You know the answer; won’t you tell me?” 


Once more it is claimed that the writer does not question the 
reality of God. But, however that may be, he certainly denies any 
real knowledge of him. He demands reputable evidence for the 
claims of current belief. As D. B. MacDonald comments, he “has 
his place in the purest rationalistic tradition.” It may be that his 
thinking is too materialistic; hke the Apostle Thomas, he seems to 
say that only the evidence of the senses is valid. But, whatever un- 
certainty we may retain on details of his outlook, it is important 
to recognize his demand that religious thinking must be honest and 
subject to the same rigorous standards as any other reliable proc- 
esses of thought. 

But in all this we must not minimize the importance for our pur- 
pose of the besetting tendency in Israel to what is sometimes de- 
scribed as practical atheism, the denial that God concerns himself 
with human affairs, however real he may actually be. Everyone is 
familiar with such pervasive mood against which the prophet 
known as Malachi uttered his reproofs. In this case the public at- 
titude expressed itself in habitual carelessness in the practice of the 
public rites of worship. Since God had not fulfilled the promises of 
the prophets to re-establish the Judean state, so the interpretation 
runs, the Jews in Jerusalem were swept along from disappoint- 
ment to despair to infidelity. But it is important to realize that this 
was no new thing; the pre-Exilic prophets were obliged to take ac- 
count of the same cynical mood. A brief but arresting passage oc- 
curs in connection with the work of Jeremiah. The people are 
quoted as saying: “It is not he, neither will evil come upon us, 
neither shall we see sword and famine” 0er. 5 : 12). The situation 
is apparent. Jeremiah had warned them of impending disaster, at 
the same time arguing divine displeasure as the cause of present 
troubles. But they denied this facile interpretation. The course 
of events was following namral laws; the trouble was the might 
of Babylon and its aggressiveness — ^what need to bring the Lord 
into consideration at all? To such reasoning the prophet was com- 
pelled to find an answer. Similar is the implication of the violent 
disagreement through the eighth and seventh centuries within the 
ranks of the prophets themselves, the canonical prophets denounc- 
ing their popular colleagues for false leadership, and the latter re- 
torting in kind. A typical example is the public dispute of Jeremiah 



with Hananiah (Jeremiah, chap. 28 ) which entailed the problem 
of the ultimate authority and sanction of the prophetic utterance. 
The so-called true prophets seem to us commanding figures, and 
their pronouncements appear to have been turned oflf easily under 
divine inspiration, however we conceive that process; but it is im- 
portant that we recognize the course of serious thinking entailed 
before they dared appear in public and announce themselves reli- 
gious leaders. The attitudes and objections here sketched insured 
that intellectually, as truly as in other regards, it was no light mat- 
ter to be a prophet of the Lord. 

But the most famous skeptic of the Old Testament is the writer 
who, for lack of further information, we call by the title we have 
attached to his book. There is no denying that Ecclesiastes ad- 
mitted the existence of a God. But what did this profit? For such a 
God — ^remote, selfish, indifferent, jealously watching the pre- 
sumptions of troublesome man, and at the most conceding certain 
meager favors that served to redeem human life from stark intol- 
erability! This is incidental, however. What we note is the free 
and frank doubt of orthodoxy which reveals itself in every chapter 
of his book. Over against this he sets up a philosophical system of 
cosmic determinism, a sort of universal wheel of time on which 
life and nature and history are forever wearily repeating them- 
selves as often as the cycle of time brings round once more the 
things that have receded into the past. 

Now it is clear, however we may regard such conclusions, that 
they are the outcome of vigorous, independent thinking. And the 
book shows unmistakably the nature of that thinking. Ecclesiastes 
tells us that he undertook certain experiments. He tried wisdom 
and folly; he investigated the seeming solace of wine; he gave 
himself to the pursuit of pleasure — but in all, he is at pains to as- 
sure us, his heart guided him in wisdom. Or, rendered in intelli- 
gible modern terms, he was prompted, not by the frivolity of the 
voluptuary, but by a serious philosophic purpose. He was conduct- 
ing a scientific experiment upon himself, observing his own reac- 
tions and earnestly seeking through these experiences to find the 
abiding value, if any, that life possesses. And further studies were 
based on observation of the steady flow of events past his place of 
quiet reflection. It is because of what he saw in the widest survey 


of life that he concluded, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Ac- 
tually this phrase that every unthinking person today bandies about 
glibly contains a deeper implication not fully suggested by this 
common translation. The Hebrew word “all” here has the definite 
article. What Ecclesiastes says is that “the all” — that is, the total- 
ity of things, the entire purport of the universe — lacks meaning or 
value. Whatever may be thought of this conclusion, at least here 
is philosophy in the full sense of the term, though certainly not in 
its full scope as we have come to know it. But for the moment our 
interest is more in the philosopher’s methods than in either his 
results or the extent of his research. And what has been said leaves 
it abundantly clear that, admitting some unevenness in his applica- 
tion of the method, his thinking was of the sort that we have come 
to call empirical. He reasoned from observed facts. 

The Book of Ecclesiastes is regarded as quite late. As a matter 
of fact, definite criteria of its date are meager. Nonetheless it is 
well to concede its late origin, in a time when the Jews were in 
touch with Greek life and when some of them had grown familiar 
with Greek thinking. How far, then, are we to discount the book 
as an example of Hebrew methods of thought? The answer would 
seem to be that we have for long put this sort of question on a false 
basis. We are steadily learning the debt of Greece to the Orient; 
and while no serious person could deny the opposite influence so 
long affirmed, still the greamess and the long course of oriental 
thought in the full tradition of which Ecclesiastes stood renders it 
wiser to recognize that in his mental furnishing he was a thorough 
Jew, though possibly at some points he had been stimulated by the 
speculation of the West. His conclusions are not in the tradition of 
Jewish orthodoxy, but his type of mind and his methods are in- 
timately a part of the questioning mood that had been at home in 
Israel for many centuries. 

This will perhaps suffice to show the remarkably modem char- 
acter of Israel’s mental equipment, though indeed, as our discussion 
proceeds, much more that has relevance here will come before us. 
However, we turn to the question that has been forcing itself on 
our consideration. What evidence could suffice for a people of such 
pronounced critical disposition to support their unique and aston- 
ishing religious beliefs which we sketched a little ago! 



Unfortunately for this purpose, the Hebrew thinkers, unlike 
the Greek, commonly left not so much a record of their processes 
of thought as of their conclusions. In particular this is true of those 
whom we may call the orthodox theologians. What information is 
provided, for example, of the basis of Abraham’s faith? Or of that 
of the author of the pentateuchal narratives in general? And the 
prophets were characteristically concerned to hurl their denuncia- 
tions and promises in telling phrase such as might bring conviction 
rather than to carry their audiences along by reasoned processes 
to a desired conclusion. The apologetic for Israel’s faith thus does 
not lie on the surface. Still, if one will dig a little deeper, the facts 
will in some part presently reveal themselves. 

Israel, we must keep in mind, was an oriental nation among the 
great nations of the ancient Orient. Their culture was the matrix 
in which hers was shaped. And we recall how the chapters both 
on Egypt and on Babylonia found a ground of explanation of the 
religions of the two regions in the physical conditions in which the 
peoples lived. The sun-drenched valley of the Nile and the flooded 
plains of ancient Shumer both exerted profound influence in the 
molding of the outlook of ancient men for whom Egypt or Baby- 
lonia were the world and their forces the realities by which man 
must direct his life. A similar approach to the religion of Israel 
could prove fruitful. The rugged terrain of northwest Arabia, of 
which Syria and Palestine, it has sometimes been remarked, may 
be regarded as merely the largest and richest oasis, the numerous 
mountain peaks, the volcanoes apparently active at some period in 
ancient history, the desert with its speaking silences, the uncer- 
tainties of the weather in a land where all is dependent on the an- 
nual rainfall— all these and much more of the same sort are re- 
flected in Israel’s religion. Of her earliest faith we cannot safely 
say more than that it was inherited and uncritically accepted from 
ancestors who had come, by the ways that have shaped the mind of 
primitive man, to the position surveyed in chapter 1. And it is 
against this background that all her later speculation must be ex- 
amined, just as we, too, however secular and objective we seek to 
make our investigation of the nature of the world and of man, have 
come to it through a long heritage of the past that accepted fully 
the personal explanation of the world. The problem, then, for 


Israel, just as for us, is not how she came to believe in the exist- 
ence of the divine but rather how her experiences shaped that be- 
lief and how her people supported it when they had arrived at some 
sort of intellectual self-consciousness. 

The basic fact for Israel’s faith was the physical world . But here 
we encounter one of the prime distinctions between this nation and 
her neighbors. For Israel’s God rose out of and transcended the 
status of a nature-god. God and nature were intimately related, as 
the Babylonians and Egyptians also believed, yet for Israel they 
were nonetheless distinct and diverse. This may be described as a 
debasing of nature, since it remained no longer divine. Yet the ac- 
tuality of Israel’s thought was rather the reverse. Nowhere in the 
ancient East do we find such sublime concepts and descriptions of 
nature as in Israel. It is more accurate, then, to speak rather of the 
sublimation of God and the elevation of nature as an expression of 
the divine power and activity. In reality the highest concepts of 
her neighbors are so fully carried over that one could easily confuse 
the situation and regard Yahweh as a God of mountain and earth- 
quake and storm and fertility in just the same sense as for the 
others. His voice was heard in the thunder; he shook the world in 
earthquakes; his rain fell on the thirsty ground; he flashed abroad 
in the lightning; he was present in birth and increase. But the es- 
sential distinction is supplied by a Hebrew writer, who, though 
speaking of a single incident, employs language that is a symbol 
of all: 

Behold the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains 
and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; 
and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and 
after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire [I Kings 19 : 1 1-12}. 

These were but “the whisper of his word, but the thunder of his 
power who might understand?” (Job 26 : 14.) The point is obvious. 
God, for Israel, was supreme above nature and employed it for his 
purposes. However intimately related to natural phenomena, God 
was more than, and distinct from, them. For “after the fire” came 
“a still, small voice.” 

Yet the intimate relation of God and the forces and phenomena 
of namre give the latter a quality that one searches far to find, 
short of die English romanticists of the eighteenth century, and 



imparts to their descriptions a beauty and elevation and withal a 
majesty such as, one may venture the judgment, to rank them with 
the best poetry of any age. The Hebrew, too, 


A presence that disturbs .... with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 

And the round ocean and the living air, 

And the blue sky and the heart of man. 

Indeed, it was only by virtue of his profound debt to the long He- 
brew tradition in our Western culture that Wordsworth was able 
to rise to such concepts. Israel’s sense of the wonder of nature as 
interfused with a presence is well illustrated in a passage that por- 
trays the might and majesty of the sea, that enemy on which the 
Hebrew characteristically looked with suspicion and fear but 
which is here sublimated into an expression of the power of God: 

They that go down to the sea in ships, 
that do business in great waters: 

these see the works of the Lord 
and his wonders in the deep. 

For he commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind 
which lifteth up the waves thereof. 

They mount up to the heavens; they go down again to the depths; 
their soul melteth away because of trouble. 

They reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man 
and are at their wits’ end. 

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble 
and he bringeth them out of their distresses. 

He maketh the storm a calm 

so that the waves thereof are still. 

Then they are glad because they are quiet. 

So he bringeth them unto their desired haven [Ps. 107: 23-30]. 

Similar is the mood of the striking description in Psalm 65, 
which, if we may illustrate the greater by the less, has been the in- 
spiration of our fine hymn ‘Tor Those in Peril on the Sea”: 

By terrible things thou wilt answer us in righteousness 
O God of our salvation, 

Thou that art the confidence of ail the ends of 
the earth 

and of them that are afar off upon the sea: 


who by his strength setteth fast the mountains, 
being girded about with might; 

who stilieth the roaring of the seas, 
the roaring of their waves 
and the tumult of the peoples. 

They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are 
afraid at thy tokens 

thou makest the outgoings of the morning and the 
evening to rejoice [Ps. 65 : 5-8] . 

Can one find more eiFective expression of the awesome majesty of 
the mountains than in the simple couplet of some unknown He- 
brew poet: 

In his hand are the deep places of the earth; 

The strength of the hills is his also [Ps. 95:4], 

For quieter mood, for the charm of the peaceful landscape be- 
neath the favor of a bounteous heaven, drinking in rest and re- 
freshment from the quiet autumn rain, we turn once more to 
Psalm 65; it runs on: 

Thou visitest the earth and waterest it 
thou greatly enrichest it ... . 
thou waterest its furrows abundantly, 
thou settlest the ridges thereof 
thou makest it soft with showers 
thou blessest the springing thereof 
thou crownest the year with thy goodness 
and thy paths drop fatness [Ps. 65:9-11]. 

A comparable theme is presented in prose, which, however, in 
its rhythms (preserved even after the hazards of translation), in 
its balanced expression, and in its mood of lingering affection 
rises to pure lyric: 

For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of 
water, of fountains and springs Sowing forth in the valleys and hills, a land of 
wheat and barley and vines and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a 
land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness: thou shaft not lack any- 
thing in it; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills thou canst dig cop- 
per [Deut. 8: 7-9]. 

Even that topic which for us is the commonest of the common- 
place, employed to fill awkward gaps in conversation, was for the 



Hebrew transfused with a sense of the sublime. Here is an Old 
Testament account of the weather: 

The land whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and 
drinketh water of the rain of heaven, a land which the Lord thy God careth for: 
the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it from the beginning of the year 
even unto the end of the year [Deut. 11:1 1-12]. 

One might occupy all the space allotted for these chapters in 
citation of striking passages of Israel’s feeling for nature. Perhaps, 
though, we may delay over just a few more. The Hebrew’s per- 
sonalizing of nature and his transfusion of it with his highest re- 
ligious experiences is well shown in this passage from the Book of 
Isaiah. The very fact that in essence this attitude is close to the 
I-Thou relationship with which chapter 1 has familiarized us dem- 
onstrates vividly the distance the Hebrew traveled beyond his con- 

Ye shall go out with joy 
and be led forth with peace. 

The mountains and the hills 
shall break forth before you into singing 
and all the trees of the field 
shall clap their hands [Isa. 55 : 12], 

It is reminiscent of that justly famous couplet in the speech of the 
Lord in the Book of Job: 

When the morning stars sang together 
and all the sons of God shouted for joy [Job 38:7]. 

But one may not dismiss the subject without a comment on the 
Hebrew’s love of animate nature, no less striking than his sense of 
the majesty of the inanimate. Obviously the great expression of 
this is in the so-called Song of Songs. Who can forget the follow- 
ing, that even yet richly expresses the charm of “the springtime, 
the only pretty ring-time”? 

Rise up my love, my fair one, 
and come away. 

For lo the winter is past; 
the rain is over and gone; 


the flowers appear on the earth; 
the time of the singing of birds is come 
and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our 

O my love, that art in the clefts of the rock, 
in the covert of the steep place, 

Let me see thy countenance 
Let me hear thy voice [Cant. 2 : 10-14] . 

It seems a far leap from this idyllic beauty to the grace and pow- 
er of the war horse described in words of which Carlyle wrote that 
“there is nothing more sublime in any literature”: 

The glory of his snorting is terrible! 

He paweth in the valley and rejoiceth in his strength. 

He goeth out to meet the armed men. 

He mocketh at fear and is not dismayed, 
neither tumeth he back from the sword. 

The quiver rattleth against him 
the flashing spear and the javelin. 

He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage. 

He will nor turn aside at the blast of the trumpet 

but as often as he heareth the trumpet he says, Aha! 

He smelleth the battle afar off, 

the thunder of the captains and the shouting [Job 39:20-25]. 

How much, too, we learn of the Hebrew zest of life and delight 
in physical power, such as we have sometimes associated with the 
Greek temper, from the obvious converse of this brief denial: the 
Lord “taketh not pleasure in the strength of ahorse, nor in the legs 
of a man.” 

But we must proceed with the more prosaic, though admittedly 
more important, matters of Israel’s theological apologetics. All 
nature was the work of the Lord and visible evidence of his reality, 
of his power, and of his immediate participation in affairs of the 
world. Yet the notable skeptical mood of Israel insures that, though 
we cannot trace the process as fully as we would, still the argu- 
ment was certainly subjected to steady re-examination and main- 
tained its supremacy only after debate. Some of this we have al- 
ready sketched. 

A significant contribution to this line of thought came about 
through the experience of the deported Jews in the Babylonian cap- 



tivity . Carried off from Jerusalem, which they had in their pro- 
vincialism supposed to be one of the great cities of the world, and 
planted in the plain of Babylonia not far from the great imperial city 
itself, the exiles, when the first pangs of homesickness had passed, 
began to realize wonders and achievements of Babylonian civiliza- 
tion such as shamed their poor rustic culture. And, as time went 
on, the more open-minded learned of the pomp and magnificence 
of the religion of their captors and the might of supreme Marduk 
before whom, by the accepted test of arms, Yahweh’s puny strength 
had but mocked his people’s need. A mood of disillusionment, it 
would seem, set in and carried many of the Jews far along the road 
of assimilation and denial of their religious heritage. It was a larger 
world into which they had come. 

From imperial Babylon lines of close communication led out 
eastward into Iran, of which the captives had scarce ever heard, 
and westward through Asia Minor to the Greek world. In the city 
itself merchants and governmental officials from the far ends of the 
known world might be met day by day. How petty and remote 
Judah and all for which it stood must have seemed to the ostensibly 
liberal minded. And as a climax of all this impact of foreign cul- 
ture that was slowly eating the vitals out of the Jewish faith was 
the fact that at just this time the Babylonian study of the heavens 
was attaining the status of a real science. Before the astonished 
Jews there was unfolded a world of immensity, of wonder, and of 
regularity such as to render ludicrous the traditional claim that Yah- 
weh, god of the tiny land of Palestine, had made not alone the sun 
and moon but the host of the stars also. 

Here we meet, certainly not the first interrelation of science and 
religion (for that reaches back into the very beginnings of man’s 
thought about the world) , but one of the earliest clashes of the two, 
in a form much like what has been familiar right to our own day. 
Indeed, these very considerations arose within our own times rele- 
vant to recent disclosures of astronomy. But how could they be 
met in the sixth cenmry b.c.? Did the Jews abandon their faith for 
the new-found false Messiah, science? Certainly not the best of 
them! Did they retire into intellectual isolation and refuse to ad- 
mit the findings of science? Did they satisfy themselves with re- 
affirmation of ancient dogmas? Not at all. It is again an index of 


their intellectual vitality that instead they met the problem with 
high courage, recognized the validity of the new knowledge and its 
destructive implications, and then, embracing the facts, rebuilt 
their faith on a new and better basis into a greater religion than it 
was before. 

Fortunately there lived among these perplexed people the great 
poet-thinker whom we call Second Isaiah. He realized that the dif- 
ficulty was inherent, not in the character of Yahweh, but in the un- 
worthy thought of him which his people held. Seizing boldly on the 
very findings of science which were sweeping more tender-minded 
Jews off their feet, he claimed that, far from nullifying faith in Is- 
rael’s God, these were but evidences of his greamess and of his 
reality. For God was maker and master of the physical universe. 
“Lift up your eyes on high and see who hath created these things, 
that bringeth out their host by number; he calleth them all by 
name; great in might and strong in power, not one is lacking” 
(Isa. 40:26). 

However, already familiar elements of the cosmological argu- 
ment also received fresh and vigorous handling by Second Isaiah. It 
is not merely the enlarged world of his time that impinged on his 
consciousness with fresh conviction, but in a mood very much like 
that of the philosophic scientists of today he adduced the consid- 
eration that the ordered world declares its origin in a universal 

Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his 

and hath meted out the heaven with the span, 
and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, 
and weighed the mountains in scales 
and the hills in a balance? 

Who directed the spirit of the Lord? . . . • 

With whom took he counsel? ... . 

Who .... taught him knowledge 
and showed him the way of understanding? [Vss. 12-14.] 

This was evidently a real contribution to Israel’s thinking, for 
in a later age the wisdom writers turn frequently to it as a favorite 
theme, and in particular it serves as the basis of the lengthy dis- 
sertation upon the transcendent intelligence of the divine that is 



put into the mouth of the Lord in the latter part of the Book of 

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? 

Declare if thou hast intelligence. 

Who determined its measures? — ^if you possess knowledge. 

Whereupon were its foundations fastened? 

Or who laid its cornerstone? .... 

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days began, 
and caused the dayspring to know its place? 

Where is the way to the dwelling of light? 

And as for darkness, where is its place? .... 

Canst thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades 
or loose the bands of Orion? .... 

Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock 
bring forth? 

Or canst thou number the months that they fulfil? [38:4 — 39:2.] 

And so this lengthy survey of the complex interaction of animate 
and inanimate creation runs on. It will be noted that, in part, this 
is a mere disparagement of human knowledge: that the world con- 
tains much more than mortal mind can compass. But basic to the 
discussion is that it treats of the wonders of the infinite intelligence 
which not alone established these wonders but holds them in their 
proper relations. 

It is important to realize that Second Isaiah wrote with conscious 
realization of the problem of apologetics; he took up the issue spe- 
cifically and of set purpose. It is a sort of undertone running 
through his poems. He treats it relevant to the claims of the great 
contemporary pagan gods; but this does not alter the point of prime 
interest that he was answering the question “How can man know 
rationally that God exists and that he is the sort of being which 
Jewish tradition claims him to be?” To this end his favorite device 
is to picture a cosmic assize in which Yahweh is at once plaintiff 
and judge; he advances his arguments and introduces his wimesses 
and then challenges the defendants to make out their case. But at 
this point only silence ensues; and the decision goes to Yahweh, 
not by default, but by the demonstration of the complete powerless- 
ness and inanity of the others. And Yahweh’s argument, in addi- 
tion to what we have already noted, is that he has been operative 
in history and still is the vital force in the affairs of men. Notwith- 


standing certain new features which were introduced into this 
consideration, it is important to recognize that Second Isaiah is 
here but applying an opinion that was very old among Israelite 
thinkers. It had received notable expression by Isaiah a hundred 
and fifty years before in his bold claim that the God of Israel was 
using the Assyrians for his great purposes. But it was not uniquely 
his; for it is the theme running throughout the Old Testament. 
The Hebrew thinkers, with a penetration that might have spared 
some later thought its worst blunders, recognized that the meaning 
of the world can be understood, if at all, only in the light of and by 
inclusion of human life, which is its highest expression. For them, 
then, “the proper study of mankind was man.” 

This is peculiarly the field of investigation of the wise men. 
They were primarily students of human life from the ethical and 
metaphysical point of view. In their age-long investigation, carried 
on by successive generations of scholars, history and society pro- 
vided facilities in a sense comparable with those offered in modern 
scientific experimentation. It is scarcely an exaggeration to claim 
that they were empirical, though admittedly the method had not 
yet come to self-consciousness and hence could easily fall below 
scientific stricmess or give way to traditional dogma. Nonethe- 
less, their activity is in itself demonstration of the keen intellectual- 
ism of ancient Israel and the distance this people had gone in meth- 
ods of sound thinking. The wise men sought to evolve codes of 
conduct that might conduce to the accepted ideal of the good life, 
but as well they saw everything taking its place in a continuing 
stream of action and history which was leading on to determined 
results in the divine purpose. This very alluring topic we abandon 
with cursory comment, to take it up at more length a little later. 
However, a related aspect of the topic has already been mentioned 
and calls for some orientation at this point. We took occasion to 
note that Amos’ thought of the universality of God was in some 
way dependent on his sense of a common human standard of right 
and wrong. At the appropriate place we shall advance further evi- 
dence that such was actually Amos’ thinking. It is clear, then, that 
in this was one ofthe fruitful sources of Israel’s convictions as to the 
being and namre of God. The universality of the human regard for 
those higher qualities which the Hebrew gathered up in the concept 



of righteousness found rational explanation best in a cosmic origin 
which some modern thinkers describe as a Process; but for the 
Hebrew mind that Process was personal. In the unceasing human 
striving from the good to the better, in the contempt of the base 
and mean, in the universal homage to the true and noble and un- 
selfish, there was for Israel’s thought, just as for ours, a profound 
mystery that compelled speculation to venture beyond the im- 
mediate and tangible, out into the region of cause and nature and 
being. Israel’s thinkers concluded that here is the ultimate revela- 
tion of the character of God: He is righteousness and truth. 

In addition to the argument from the wonders and the apparent 
intelligence of the world, and from the course of human history, 
past and future, as he believed it might be calculated. Second 
Isaiah had one other consideration which is presented with such 
brevity that there is danger of reading into it perhaps more than 
he meant. In his favorite figure of a great court scene, he has the 
Lord in several passages say of Israel, “You are my wimesses” 
(Isa. 43:10, 12; 44 : 8) . The context in some measure may suggest 
that he is thinking of Israel as the recipient of God’s bounty and 
mighty deliverances, of which now she could testify. Yet though 
this may be uppermost in the passages, the further concept cannot 
be absent that Israel can testify out of her whole knowledge of 
God. However that may be in these passages, it is certain that 
such consideration came to have force in Jewish thought. A psalm- 
ist exclaims, “O taste and see that the Lord is good”; again: 

The judgments of the Lord are true 
and righteous altogether 
More to be desired are they than gold, 
yea than much fine gold 
Sweeter also than honey 

and the droppings of the honeycomb [Ps. 19:9-10]. 

O how I love thy law; it is my meditation all the day [Ps. 1 19 :97]. 

And this is but the merest sample of the immense bulk of such ut- 
terances that one might excerpt from the Psalms and other poetry 
of the Old Testament. The devout Israelite felt and knew that in 
his personal experience of his God he had a treasure of the rarest 
quality. And in this, finally, it would appear^ b€ found the proof of 


the reality and the goodness of the Person whom his traditional 
faith postulated as the center and meaning of the physical universe. 
It is apparent that the question of the validity of such thinking 
comes into consideration. Did the Hebrew ever go behind his 
processes of observation and thought to question their finality? 
But this question we can take up more effectively as part of Is- 
rael’s whole understanding of human life. 



I T IS said that for the ancient Hebrew there were three realities: 

God, man, and the world. The remark is, however, less pro- 
found than it may appear; for what more is there? And how could 
he have taken account of less, being the person that he was? But, 
in any case, it is now time to turn to the second of these entities. 

Israel was fully aware of that most critical question of all man’s 
thought — the problem that man is to himself. The Hebrew think- 
ers meditated upon this strange two-legged creature that struts 
about in such pompous mood, arrogantly rivaling the gods yet 
knowing full well that he is much less than divine, conscious of his 
close relation with the beasts but refusing to be a brute, and always 
— even in his proudest moments— haunted with a sense of insuffi- 
ciency and with the knowledge that the nemesis which dogs his 
every footstep will ultimately overtake him. And what, then, of all 
he has hoped and done? In itself such thinking is not remarkable, 
for even primitive man had early learned to ask questions about 
his origin and nature. But the uniqueness of Israel’s thought is in 
the elevation of its conclusions, an answer to the problem of man 
that even in this modern day some regard as superior to much of 
recent thought as well as to the aberration which Greek specula- 
tion fastened upon Western culture. 

The consciousness of the problem was widely diffused among 
Hebrew thinkers, if we may judge from frequent allusion and for- 
mal discussion. One of the notable passages of more extensive 
treatment is Psalm 90 , which in majestic wording sketches the age- 
lessness of the world, and the eternity of the divine, by contrast 
with which man is transient, frail, and fallible: 

Before the mountains were brought forth 
or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, 

even from everlasting to everlasting thou art, O God 

A thousand years in thy sight 
are but as yesterday when it is past, 
and as a watch in the night. 

255 ' 

But as for man: 

Thou earnest them away as with a flood; they are as 
a sleep; 

in the morning they are like grass that groweth up: 
in the morning it groweth up and flourisheth, 

in the evening it is cut down and withereth 

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, 

our secret sins in the light of thy countenance 

We spend our years as a sigh [Ps. 90 : 2-9] . 

Scarcely less deserving of mention is the explicit formulation of the 
question in Psalm 8 : 

O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name 
in all the earth! 

who hath set thy glory upon the heavens. 

When I survey thy heavens 
the work of thy fingers, 
the moon and the stars 
which thou hast ordained, 
what is man . . . . ? 

In the immensity and might of the physical universe, man is so 
fleeting and so little; yet, as we shall see, man, so this thinker 
maintains, holds a place of unique significance. 

One influence that stimulated Israel’s interest in the problem was 
the obvious similarity that exists between man and the beasts. We 
are told that in his three thousand proverbs Solomon “spoke of 
birds and of beasts and of creeping things” (I Kings 4 : 32-3 3) . But 
this had been a very old interest in the Orient, where fables of 
plants and animals of the sort familiar to the modern world under 
the title Aesop’s Fables had been long employed in teaching and 
speculation about the nature of man. The well-known fable of 
Jotham in chapter 9 of Judges is the clearest illustration of this that 
we possess from Israel, but certain passages in the Book of Prov- 
erbs, some prophetic figures, and, most of all, this clear statement 
in the account of Solomon’s career demonstrate that the Hebrew 
thinkers recognized our kinship with the lower animals. But then 
what? Is man nothing but a more intelligent brute? In view of the 
freedom of Israel’s skeptical thought, it is not surprising that the 



question found answer in the affirmative. Nor shall we think it re- 
markable that our familiar acquaintance, Ecclesiastes, is the one to 
voice this with frankness. He states his conclusion; 

I said in my heart in regard to the sons of men that, since God has created 
them and he sees that they are in their nature but beasts, the fate of the sons of 
men and the fate of beasts is one: as this dies, so dies that; they have all the same 

spirit, and man has no superiority above the beasts, for all is futile Who 

knows whether the spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes 
down into the earth? [Eccles. 3:18-21]. 

There we have frank and complete repudiation of man’s higher 
claims. Our life, just like that of the animals, is told in purely bio- 
logical terms. And when death overtakes us, nothing has happened 
but biological and then chemical dissolution. But the very terms of 
Ecclesiastes’ pessimism reveal that the consensus of Hebrew 
thought was against him. He is clearly at pains to criticize and 
repudiate an accepted belief. 

Similar is the mood of the “friends” in the Book of Job. It is ap- 
parent that they assign man a lowly place. Bildad, indeed, alludes 
to “man that is a maggot, and the son of man that is a worm” 
(Job 25:8). And Eliphaz, in a comparable utterance, stresses the 
frailty and transcience of human life: 

.... them that dwell in houses of clay, 
whose foundation is in the dust, 
who are crushed before the moth! 

Betwixt morning and evening they are destroyed; 
they perish forever without any regarding it. 

Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them? 

They die, and that without wisdom [Job 4: 19-21]. 

But we must beware of deducing a similar inference from the con- 
trite confession of a psalmist: 

But I am a worm and no man 
a reproach of men and despised of the people [Ps. 22:6]. 

It means, indeed, just the opposite of the view of Job’s friends. For 
it is clear that it is the writer himself who, as a worm, is less than 
human— so he claims. The characteristic belief of Israel, indeed, 
finds nowhere more challenging formulation than in the Psalter, 
and most notably in that Eighth Psalm, from which we quoted a 


moment ago. The relevant passage is rendered in the King James 

What is man that thou art mindful of him, 
and the son of man that thou visitest him? 

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, 
and hast crowned him with glory and honor [Ps. 8 :4-6]. 

But the word here rendered “angels” is '^elohtm, the familiar and 
regular term for God. And nowhere does it certainly mean angels. 
There is no evidence whatever that would support the action of the 
seventeenth-century translators at this point; it rests only on dog- 
matic presuppositions which precluded their rising to the boldness 
of the Hebrew concept. The passage says as clearly as may be: 
“Thou hast made him a little lower than God” ! 

In few regards is the uniqueness of Hebrew thought more evi- 
dent than in this concept of the basic character of human life. In- 
deed to this day (not merely until the time of King James’ trans- 
lators), we have but inadequately approached the majesty of the 
conception that man is in his nature “but little lower than God.” 
And such a view was propounded by a people who had no less pain- 
ful cause than our own generation to know the depraved possibil- 
ities of the human heart, and who, on the other hand, maintained an 
unrivaled faith in a transcendent God. But yet the paradox — for 
them, man is “but a little lower” and “crowned with glory and 
honor.” Here is none of the contamination of flesh, of the essential 
badness of matter, of the evil of the world and all that it signifies: 
ideas which we have erroneously fathered on the Orient, and which 
in mrn have distorted our religious thinking for two millenniums. 
But they are Greek and not Hebrew, traceable not to Moses but 
to Plato! True the Hebrew would grant the terms of our familiar 
hymn, “Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail”; but in that 
feebleness there was no taint of original sin. On the contrary, 
man is of exalted origin; and his destiny, by implication, is like- 
wise one of majesty. Echoing the words of the creation story, our 
psalmist goes on: “Thou madest him to have dominion over the 
works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” (Ps. 
8 : 6 ). 

It is, indeed, in the accounts of the Creation that we find the 



basic and almost complete statement of the Hebrew answer to the 
problem of man. God made him in his own image. Or, in another 
narrative, he was shaped by divine hands from dust of the earth, 
and then God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man be- 
came a living being. There is at once both man’s earthy and his 
divine nature. But the important thing to emphasize is that our men- 
tion of such antithesis is un-Hebraic. For Israel it was a single and 
consistent idea. God had made the world also; and on all that he 
made, step by step, he pronounced the judgment that it was good. 
The world, like man, came fresh from the hands of the Creator, 
trailing clouds of glory. Such was Hebrew and Jewish thought 
throughout. However bad the troubles that might fall, however 
thick the gloom, yet Israel’s basic conviction was that the world 
was permeated with its divine origin and high purpose. 

There exists an unsolved problem as to the ultimate nature of 
matter. Our theology has postulated a dogma of creatio ex nihilo. 
But certainly this is not asserted in the Old Testament. On the con- 
trary, a question has arisen whether Gen. 1:1 does not actually 
imply the reverse. The sentence is of unusual Hebrew construction. 
And it has been boldly asserted that the correct meaning is that giv- 
en by the Chicago translation: “When God began to create the 
heavens and the earth, the earth being a desolate waste, with dark- 
ness covering the abyss and the spirit of God hovering over the 
water, then God said, ‘Let there be light!’ ” That is, matter was 
not created but was pre-existent. The world is of dual origin: a 
shapeless chaotic mass of matter, on one hand, and God and his 
work on the other. Unfortunately, further references in the Old 
Testament to the origin of the world fail to clear up the problem, 
and we are compelled to leave it in this uncertainty. But the situa- 
tion does not qualify the major emphasis which we have sought to 
make at this point. For even if Israel did actually think of matter 
as eternal and pre-existent, still there is nowhere any suggestion 
of stigma upon it as matter. Instead it was worthy to be the medi- 
um and content of God’s work of creation, so that in the end the 
complete work was “very good.” 

But the thought carries still further. It deserves repetition that 
man as a creature of flesh bore thereby no stain of uncleanness or 
unworthiness. Of man’s sinfulness we must speak in a moment, and 


it was very real for Israel’s thought. But it did not derive from his 
fleshly being. God had made man, and in those primeval days of 
more than Elysian bliss he had associated freely with our first par- 
ent, a being of just our nature. But, further, God had given to the 
first couple the injunction: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the 
earth, and have dominion.” It is a command that remained basic 
in subsequent Hebrew life. However black the present and future, 
the devout Israelite might not seek racial release by abstention 
from begetting children and through them children’s children. 
Jeremiah, it is true, had taken that course, but to such extent he 
stood apart from his people. God had commanded, “Be fruitful and 
multiply.” Apart from some practice of ritual fasting and other re- 
straint, there was no asceticism in Israel, with but the exception of 
the Essenes, who fall in a period so late that they may not be cited 
as typically Hebraic. Celibacy and a special “immaculate concep- 
tion” are ideas that have come into our religious tradition from 
sources other than the Old Testament. For Israel, every conception 
was immaculate; it was instituted of God and, to their simple sci- 
entific ideas, was in detail a direct gift from him. True, they knew 
well the biological sequence; nonetheless, it was the Lord who 
gave conception or, it might be, withheld it. Children were a bless- 
ing of the Lord and a sign of his grace. Yet every Bible reader will 
in this connection think of the contrite confession in the Fifty-first 

For I was shapen in iniquity 
and in sin did my mother conceive me. 

It is a passage that has been responsible for much distorted think- 
ing about biblical ideas. But even if we take the passage in an in- 
dividual sense and context, we must nonetheless note that it is un- 
paralleled in the Old Testament, so that we should be compelled 
to understand it as a piece of poetic hyperbole. But commentators, 
recognizing this, wisely understand a national meaning. Just as the 
poet in Isa. 43 :27 speaks of original national sin, “Your first 
father sinned,” so here the devout writer thinks of himself as heir of 
his people’s proneness to disobedience. It is well said, “The mother 
here is Mother Israel.” 

The bases of these exalted concepts of man and the world are 



not such as to permit of conclusive analysis. Indeed, we seem here 
to deal with a mood rather than with a reasoned position; for Is- 
rael’s thinkers were deeply conscious of the darker side of human 
nature. They had painful occasion to know the badness of their en- 
vironment, both physical and racial. Nonetheless, they held firm 
the faith that man is a being essentially of noble nature set in a 
world that is essentially good. It has been our habit to comment on 
the liberty of the Greek mood that looked the gods in the face in a 
relationship similar to that between equal humans. And what was 
it that brought the Greeks to this? Was it that they, too, were 
Mediterranean folk, who reveled in the long and cheerful sunshine 
of the region and that they, like Israel, were a mountain people, 
living a socially atomistic life in their secluded valleys? Are we, 
then, to search in environment rather than in racial heritage or 
reasoned processes of thought for the source of such ideas of God 
and man? However that may be, it is apparent that Israel’s position 
here transcends that of Greece in that her God was exalted far 
beyond the human weaknesses of the Greek deities. But environ- 
ment does not tell all, for Israel was unique in the Orient. The 
Syrians and Moabites also were mountain dwellers in the Mediter- 
ranean world, and there is no need to delay over the inferiority of 
their religious achievement. We are driven to hold that the He- 
brews’ concept of man cannot be understood in isolation, but only 
as a part of their whole remarkable system of thought. They 
recognized that man is superior to the brutes — even the tempered 
pessimism of Ecclesiastes cannot hide his admission of the fact — 
and then, realizing a strange quality in human character that is 
more than biological and that for them, as we shall presently see, 
was nothing less than a divine endowment, they were brought to 
the conclusion that man’s nature somewhere between the brute 
and the divine could be only “a little lower than God.” 

Yet, notwithstanding his exalted origin and nature, man was, 
for Hebrew thought, a sinful and sinning being. In these paradoxi- 
cal extremes we sound the depths of Israel’s concept of man. No- 
where has there been such sense of the depravity of sin as among 
this people; and we in turn have entertained a comparable view 
only by virtue of our Hebraic heritage. The sinfulness of sin, if one 
may clarify through the obscurity of redundancy, was the counter- 





part of the transcendence of God. Here again is an eloquent para- 
dox. All Israel’s thought traces back ultimately to her great con- 
fession, “The Lord Our God, the Lord is one.” The idea of sin 
was very old in the Orient, as doubtless in human life long prior 
to the rise of the earliest oriental cultures. But there is a great gulf 
between that and Israel’s thought. The simpler notion is of action 
which displeases the deity. And when that deity is merely the en- 
larged stature of a man, with much of human caprice, then sin can 
have little if any of moral relevance. At the most, the general Ori- 
ent had moved noticeably in the direction of a transcendent con- 
cept of sin. But for Israel sin was offense against a supernal holi- 
ness and righteousness that far transcends our highest attainments 
or even understanding. True, this holiness was a Person: for Israel 
other thought was impossible; but his exalted nature suffused all 
their thinking, transforming personal affront into moral evil. There 
remained the personal relationship in even the deepest individual 
experiences of guilt; the great penitential confesses: 

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, 

and done that which is evil in thy sight [Ps. 51:4]. 

And another psalmist, expressing human fallibility, says : 

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, 
our secret sins in the light of thy countenance [Ps. 90:8]. 

By contrast with the pure light of that ineffable presence, “All our 
righteousnesses are but filthy rags.” 

And there, in such paradox, is Israel’s thought of man. He was 
made in the image of God, but a little lower than he, worthy to 
companion with him, but yet so far removed that the highest hu- 
man attainments, even the best aspirations are acceptable only by 
divine grace. The paradox merits repetition; for in it, beyond a 
doubt, lies the source of Israel’s best and highest thought and her 
unceasing moral striving. Yet we must set limits and guards to the 
concept, for emphasis on the transcendence of God has led into de- 
vious ways in the history of theology, not least within our own 
times. God was exalted, yet he was not separated from man. God 
and man were alike in namre. Even if man’s frailties were such as 
to make the resemblance a caricature, nonetheless, he was in the 



image of God. God is in the heavens; God is far other than man. 
But it is entirely false to Old Testament thought to introduce into 
the statement that adverb favored in recent theological speculation 
and say that God is “wholly” other. Israel’s thinkers would have 
repudiated such an idea with indignation. There were exceptions, it 
is true, such as are represented by Eccleasiastes and the “friends” 
in the Book of Job. But the cynicism of the former resulted in a 
grotesque caricature; and the latter are properly held up for cen- 
sure, by the great author of the dialogue, as a little weak in their 

Current theology undertakes to explain all sin as an expression of 
human pride. Whether or not such would be true of later thought, 
it can be posited of Old Testament speculation only by a rationali- 
zation. One may take the position that frail man can wilfully trans- 
gress the commands of a holy God only through a mentality dis- 
torted by exaggerated self-importance. But certainly the Hebrew 
thinkers did not hold this view. They knew human pride and prop- 
erly deprecated it. Yet for them sin was primarily rebellion, either 
wilful and deliberate or unconscious through “forgetting” God by 
absorption in other interests. 

Such being man’s nature, what did Israel think of his destiny? 
One answer we have already noted. Ecclesiastes admitted no out- 
come but complete despair. Man dies like the brute — and that is 
the end! Even while he lives he is able to accomplish nothing, so 
that the best answer to the problem of life is “Live it as comfort- 
ably as you can; and don’t think much about it.” But it is obvious 
that such a view would not satisfy the great stream of Israel’s 
thinkers whom we may call with admitted inaccuracy “the ortho- 
dox.” In time they came to accept the belief long cherished in 
Egypt and doubtless well known throughout Israel that death is not 
the end but the beginning. It is a portal through which man goes 
out into a larger life. This came so late in the Old Testament period 
that little can be said about it. One of our very few treatments of 
the theme speaks briefly of “everlasting life” (Dan. 12:2); an- 
other summons: “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust” (Isa. 
26:19). And beyond that we cannot safely go without danger of 
reading in the ideas of later times. It is an enticing question why 


Israel continued so late to reject the faith she had long known. We 
do not know; but it is suggested that the reason lay in an intimate 
relationship with the pagan cults against which earlier Israel had 
been compelled to struggle. 

For Israel, through the greater part of the Old Testament period, 
man’s destiny, then, was a mundane affair. His personal good was 
to be found in this life, and his achievement, whatever it might be, 
related only to this world. He found a sort of survival, however, 
in his family. So it was that children were prized even more than 
is common in human society. The tribe and nation also were vehi- 
cles to carry his significance into far-distant times and, as such, 
commanded his loyalty. The idea is not strange to us, unless in its 
formulation; for it is essentially the motivation that in our age im- 
pels hosts of men to give themselves freely on the battlefield: they 
do so for an idea, for the survival of human freedom, that is, for the 
persistence of our culture with its possibilities and promise of a 
much better culture arising therefrom. But apart from such hopes, 
the Israelite sought meaning and satisfaction within the days of his 
own years. 

The wholesomeness of Israel’s thinking insured that basic in the 
conception of the good life was a sufficiency of material things. 
The Hebrews were no starving saints or unwashed ascetics. They 
accepted the good things of life with zest. The emphasis of the 
prophets and other religious leaders on intangible values must not 
obscure for us the fact that all alike recognized the indispensability 
of at least reasonable physical provision, if life was to be satisfying. 
This was the hope and promise of the land into which the nation 
had come by divine promise: it was “a good land, a land of wheat 
and vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and 
honey; a land in which thou shalt eat bread without scarceness: 
thou shalt not lack any good thing in it; a land whose stones are 
iron and out of whose hills thou mayest dig copper” (Deut. 8 : 7-9) . 
Poverty and suffering could be borne through faith in unseen real- 
ities, but they were not desirable. Equally a desire for great wealth 
was only seldom encouraged. The enthusiasm of the historian of 
Solomon’s reign appears to measure the king’s happiness in direct 
relation to his wealth. Similarly Job’s prosperity is present^ as an 
item of his good fortune, though literary needs may here have en- 



hanced the mood. Elsewhere we find rather an ideal of moderation;' 
One writer deprecates alike wealth and poverty (Prov. 30 : 7-9); 
and the Deiiteronomist’s attitude just now cited must be qualified 
with his warning: “when thou hast eaten and art full, then beware 
lest thou forget the Lord thy God’’ (Dent. 6:11-12; c£ 8:11 ff.). 
Such an ideal of the happy mean in all life was expressed by Ec- 
clesiastes; we can imagine he wrote it with his tongue in his cheek! 

Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise; why shouldst 
thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish; why 
shouldst thou die before thy time? It is good that thou take hold of this and with- 
draw not thy hand from that [Eccles. 7 : 16-18] . 

But it is possible that older Hebrew ideas have at this point been 
crystallized by the impact of Greek thought. 

Then, as we have seen, for the Hebrew, life was not full and 
complete unless he was husband of a good wife and with her parent 
of several children; indeed, we should rather say, of many children, 
for one poet voices the common ideal thus: 

Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord .... 

As arrows in the hand of a strong man 
so are the children of youth. 

Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them [Ps. 127 : 3-5] . 

Of the quality of a good wife we are left in no doubt. She is sen- 
sible, industrious, thrifty, a good manager; and, not least, she rises 
early, apparently in order to let her husband sleep in! (Prov. 31: 
10-3 1) . That she is also a good mother in much the sense that we 
understand is admitted. 

As a final element in his happiness, one hoped for a long life. All 
this is nowhere more eloquently set forth than in the first speech of 
Eliphaz in the Book of Job : 

He will deliver thee in six troubles 

yea, in seven there shall no evil come nigh thee 

At destruction and dearth thou shalt laugh; 
neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth. .... 

Thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace; 

thou shalt visit thy fold and shalt miss nothing. . . . . 

Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great 
and thine offspring as the grass of the earth. 

And thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, 
as a shock of grain cometh in its season [5 : 19-"26]. 


But obviously the good life entailed as well rigid standards of 
ethics. We have several summaries of these, more or less partial. 
Those in Psalm 15 and in Job, chapter 31, are famous; the latter 
has been highly praised. A more brief statement will serve our 
present purpose: 

Blessed is the man who walketh not 
in the counsel of the wicked, 
nor standeth in the way of sinners, 
nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers; 
but his delight is in the law of the Lord [Ps. 1 : 1-2] . 

An adequate statement of Hebrew ethics would take us far. Briefly, 
we may say that the good man was honest, industrious, generous, 
and land; there is no need to list his negative virtues. But we 
should recall relative to his gracious qualities that “the merciful 
man is merciful to his beast.” The ideal was broadly conceived 
and applied; and in this consideration for the dumb beasts that 
serve man so faithfully and well we have a note that unobtrusively 
yet significantly is sounded several times in Israel’s literature. But 
it is obvious that this summary, with whatever apologies for its 
compact character, fails so much as to suggest the distinctive fea- 
ture of Hebrew ethics. The good man found his place as a member 
of a good society. For in Israel’s thought society, not less than the 
individual, had a character of its own and entailed thereby its re- 
ward or retribution. A person’s welfare and happiness were thus 
bound up in the stams of his group. His own merit or lack of it 
had relevance for the general character, as his activity had power 
to shape it. Yet it was society that determined his fate. Even out- 
standing personal character could not absolve him from society’s 
doom or debar him from sharing in its welfare. We shall see pres- 
ently how the individual gradually emerged to a relative independ- 
ence, yet to the end Israel’s ethical thought remained highly so- 

Of the culture of the mind less is said. Yet we should err if we 
then concluded that Israel was indifferent to it. On the contrary, it 
is an ideal highly praised . We think of Solomon, intrinsic in whose 
greamess was the fact that the Lord gave him “largeness of heart 
as the sand that is upon the seashore.” The prophets and other re- 



ligious leaders were so engrossed in their campaign for reform that 
they say little of this quality which actually takes so large a place 
in their own lives and activities. But in the Wisdom Literature the 
appeal of learning and the life of the mind is clearly and forcefully 
presented. The outlines of this intellectual culture we have in part 
seen already, and more must be added presently. But we may sum- 
marize this secular aspect of the good life in a, perhaps, danger- 
ously concise phrase, that Israel along this line diought of it as 
that of the cultured gentleman — in much the sense that we give to 
these words in their better connotation: a man of easy circum- 
stances, of good home life and unimpeachable integrity, gracious to 
his acquaintances, and possessing opportunity for satisfying intel- 
lectual pursuits. 

Yet it is apparent that to leave the description with this would 
be a gross misrepresentation of Hebrew thought. For the good life 
was basically and supremely the religious life. All we have said 
takes its place in this larger whole. Again we may cite a famous 
summary; the ideal was for man “to do justly, to love mercy, and 
to walk humbly with his God” (Mic. 6:8). It was the religious 
orientation that brought meaning and abiding satisfaction into life. 
The fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom — of the finest 
values of life. In his faith in God the devout Hebrew found the final 
answer to life’s enigma: a conviction that he was individually of 
worth in the eyes of God, hence might expect divine guidance and 
help, a faith which meant a rich experience of mystic relationship 
with the divine, a faith, too, in God’s plans and purposes for the na- 
tion and for the world through which the individual participated in 
issues far transcending his transience and found meaning in an 
eternal cosmic process. Certainly we must not look for such a faith 
in every ancient Hebrew whose thoughts we can scan; the igno- 
rant peasant out on the hills of Israel could scarcely be expected to 
shape his world view in such terms. But here we are concerned pri- 
marily with the best that Israel attained. And we shall see more of 
this cosmic outlook in a few moments. 

Such was the good life. And denial of it in faith and conduct was 
sin. In turn, salvation, apart from its national connotations, was 
the attainment of this life. In much of Hebrew thought there was 
little if any of the mystical element which Christian thinking has 


attached to the experience of salvation. The directness and sim- 
plicity of Israel’s thought insured that for most of the Old Testa- 
ment period conversion and salvation alike were matters of voli- 
tion. If one were a sinner, then the rational thing was to change his 
conduct. “Cease to do evil; leam to do well,” Isaiah had demanded 
(Isa. 1 : 16-17). “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; why will 
ye die?” was a later formulation of the same idea (Ezek. 33:11). 
Apparently it was as simple and easy as that. Yet Israel’s thinkers 
realized well the constraining power of ingrained habit. It was as 
inescapable as the leopard’s spots or the Ethiopian’s skin (Jer. 
13:23). Israel’s doings would not permit her to return to the Lord 
(Hos. 5:4). “Every imagination of the thoughts of the heart” of 
man in some circumstances “was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). 
The sin of the Judeans was written with a pen of iron upon the tab- 
lets of their heart (Jer. 17:1). Circumstance and heredity likewise 
exerted a conducive influence upon conduct. When Israel came into 
the land, their relations with the Canaanites became a powerful in- 
ducement to participation in the pagan cults; when they had eaten 
and were full, then it was more than possible they would forget the 
Lord their God (Deut. 6:11-12). 

Hence it was that through the course of cenmries Israel’s think- 
ers were impelled to a more profound understanding of the prob- 
lems of human conduct. More and more they realized that it rises 
from the deep springs of the personality, not out of some casual 
circumstance. The generous man does generous things, while the 
churl will be churlish (Isa. 32:6-8). In Old Testament phrase it 
is a question of the human “heart.” The classic expression of the 
problem is that by Paul in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the 
Romans: a sense of futile strife with one’s self voiced at length in 
the despairing cry, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver 
me from this body of death?” But Paul’s utterance, though evi- 
dently rooted in his own experience, was by no means novel. He 
was in this regard, as in so much else, the direct heir of his Jewish 
ancestry. For the thinkers of the long post-Exilic period turn on 
various occasions in diverse times to the glowing hope of a day 
when the Lord should change men’s hearts and enable them to do 
the right. 



I will sprinkle clean water upon you and you shall be clean; from all your filth- 
iness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, 
and will put a new spirit in you. I will take away the stony heart out of your body 
and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause 
you to walk in my statutes. Then you shall keep my ordinances and obey them 
[Ezek. 36:25-27]. 

In this time, too, was voiced the ideal of the law written on the 
heart, than which there is no more profound understanding of the 
regeneration of human life. 

I will put my law in their inward parts and will write it upon their heart. And 
I will be their God and they shall be my people. They shall no more teach each 
one his neighbor and his brother, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me from 
the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I 
will remember no more [Jer. 31:33-34]. 

There in notable formulation is Israel’s doctrine of the grace of 
God. In earlier thought the Lord had been a temperamental being 
whose sense of injured dignity might be too deep for mollification. 
Forgiveness was a conjectural matter. We are familiar with the 
threat that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon the chil- 
dren to the third and fourth generation — although in fairness we 
must remember that these were the recalcitrant, or, in biblical 
phraseology, “them that hate me.” The prophets likewise speak 
of sins that will not be forgiven as long as their perpetrators may 
live (Isa. 23 : 14) ; or they regard divine forgiveness of the repent- 
ant as problematic: “It may be that the Lord, the God of Hosts, 
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:15). But with 
the maturing of Israel’s thought the emphasis was upon the un- 
bounded grace of God. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the 
Lord pitieth them that love him, for he knoweth our frame, he re- 
membereth that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13-14). Still more: not 
alone was he ready to forgive the penitent, but he was himself the 
enabling power to vitalize human penitence; in just the sense that 
the words came to hold in a later time, he saved his people from 
their sins. 

Along these several lines, then, we find Israel’s concept of di- 
vine salvation. With a wide scope of detailed concepts, it was in 
essence to live in the grace of God. And this experience was of un- 
measured possibilities. 


The patriarchal stories preserve records very familiar to us of 
favored individuals who in some peculiar way walked with God 
and were accepted into an intimate relationship. Abraham even 
yet is reputed as “the friend of God.” With him Moses also 
talked as a man talks with his friend. But it is notable that such ex- 
periences were confined to the legendary past. In the clear light of 
history we deal with a different experience. The spirit of God' 
might “rush upon” some chosen and worthy individual and equip 
him for notable service. Such was the qualification of the national 
champions in the Book of Judges. A comparable experience is im- 
plied in stories of the tenth- and ninth-century prophets. They 
were “men of God,” an appellation that in its Hebrew possibilities 
as well as in the episodes related of them carries evidence of their 
exceptional status. 

It is worthy of note, however, that even these sources are not 
untouched with legendary embellishments. We come rather to 
Israel’s true concept of the nature of a “walk with God” in the 
careers of the writing prophets. It is important to realize that the 
prophetic experience was essentially one of personal relationship 
with the divine. In the quiet of his inner life the prophet heard 
the words of the Lord; he lived under a sense of the divine choice 
and commission and of an intimate relation that brought him 
guidance, and support, and utterance, through the common days of 
his career. Illustrations are too familiar to require long delay. We 
think of Amos’ experience of being “taken” from his peasant’s 
work and sent to prophesy to Israel; of Micah’s being full of the 
spirit of the Lord; of the occasion when the Lord spoke to Isaiah 
“with strength of hand” (Isa. 8:11). But the career of Jeremiah is 
peculiarly rich in this regard. It is clear that the account of his call 
to his high office as recorded in chapter 1 of his book is to be un- 
derstood in the light of what we know of the awakening of a 
thoughtful adolescent to the personal religious realities and tasks 
of life. And the famous passages of the book which reveal his inner 
doubts and struggles through his active years again are intimately 
related to present-day religious experiences. 

Briefly, then, Hebrew thought at its best, we may say, under- 
stood that the individual can hear the voice of God deep in his 
own consciousness and may, through the unexplored mediums of 



the mystical experience, commune with him in silence. Such is 
clearly the view of the psalmists also; from a host of relevant pas- 
sages we cite only the confession of the author of Psalm 73 . He 
was deeply perplexed and troubled by the seeming injustice of 
God’s rule of the world; the arrogant wicked lived in bounty, 
while the just were plagued all the day long and chastened every 
morning. Consideration of this was too painful for him, he says^ 
“until 1 went into the sanctuary of God and considered their latter 
end” (vs. 17). And there satisfying answer came to him, not by 
audible voice, we are to observe, nor heaven-bent theophany, but 
in quiet meditation on the realities of religion and of life. 

With the passage of time, however, and under stress of social 
and national crisis which always fosters apocalyptic expectations, 
wishful thinking turned back to concepts not unlike those found in 
the patriarchal stories. It is no accident that the pseudepigraphic 
literature is fathered on the heroes of that remote time, for it seeks 
to revive the largely abandoned, supernatural concept of God’s 
dealing with man. Once again we find favored individuals who 
stand in a special, almost superhuman relation to God; to them 
come angelic ministrants with messages direct from the heavenly 
throne and to them are given visions of the heavenly world and 
glimpses of divine plans. This type of thinking, rather than the 
concepts of the great prophets, when carried over into later reli- 
gious ideas, has continued until the present to make a peculiar ap- 
peal to minds which for lack of knowledge of the history of ideas, 
or for whatever other reason are susceptible to cabbalistic com- 
putations and imagery. 

There remains yet the question of Israel’s understanding of the 
problem of evil. How is it that suffering and sin exist in a world 
created by a good and all- wise God? The Hebrew answer is fa- 
miliar, for it is provided by the famous story of the fall of man. 
God put the first pair in the sacred garden, giving them wide privi- 
leges but strictly restraining them, “Of the fruit of the tree which 
is in the midst of the garden ye shall not eat, neither shall ye touch 
it lest ye die” (Gen. 3:3). And they went straightway and did 
just that! They were seduced by the wicked snake, it is true; but 
nonetheless they had the power to refuse; the snake merely per- 


suaded them. There we have human freedom, pure and unalloyed. 
And out of it came all our ills, so the writer tells us. But something 
else came also, for this mysterious tree was “the tree of the knowl- 
edge of good and evil.” 

It is idle to seek to exhaust the depths of the concept here. But it 
is clear that this is the Hebrew form of a widespread myth of the 
theft of divine prerogatives and their appropriation by man. Most 
of us are familiar with the Greek form of the story. Prometheus 
stole fire from the gods and gave it to man: but for this he was 
chained to a rock in the Caucasus while an eagle ate incessantly at 
his living liver. But the idea certainly did not originate with the 
Greeks; it is oriental. Ea’s befriending of man and the concept 
which developed in course of time of Osiris as the patron of civili- 
zation who suffered at the hands of Seth are treatments of the same 
problem. The East and, in particular, Israel’s thinkers speculated 
on the mysterious quality that sets man apart in all creation. He 
possesses the fire of the gods — or better, in Hebraic phrase, he has 
secured knowledge of good and evil. For this he suffers. Through 
this he sins. Yet otherwise he would be less than man. 

To be human demands freedom; we must assert our will and 
purposes, if need be against all creation, saying only, “This is my 
way.” What monstrous arrogance; ludicrous finitude claiming to 
direct its steps in a vast and mysterious universe! Who but God 
himself can Imow enough to decide his course of action? But it is 
just this that the Hebrew thinkers asserted of frail and finite man: 
he is made in the image of God. He is a free person, with all that 
such blending of finitude and freedom entails in the way of error 
and iniquity and pain. 

But indeed the great thinker who wrote the Dialogue of Job 
pushed the matter still further. The exegesis of this book is still 
beset with acute difficulty; there exists no consensus as to its main 
purport, and not least the figure of the intermediary between God 
and Job remains shrouded in uncertainty. But in any case it would 
appear that the author advanced the bold concept that God himself 
suffers. Pain and woe are in the deepest nature of things. To live 
is to suffer; and the more intensely one participates in life’s high- 
est, the more he is susceptible of pain. 



Yet there could have been but a few choice intellects that pene- 
trated to such understanding. For the rest it was much that they 
recognized so clearly how large a part of the woe that has black- 
ened human history is of human creation. Certain individuals 
through their wilful sin or by foolishness bring suffering on them- 
selves, soon or late, and also on others. The sin of Adam left an 
entail for all his descendants; that of David brought plague on the 
people (II Sam. 24:15). The profound truth of vicarious suffering, 
so notably portrayed in the Servant Songs (Isa. 50:4-9; 53:2-9), 
was deeply interwoven into Israel’s religious thought. Further, a 
disciplinary function of suffering was recognized: it was sent not in 
punishment but for guidance. The author of the first speech of Eli- 
hu reveals deep understanding when he remarks of the sufferer: 

He is chastened also with pain upon his bed 

and continual strife in his bones 

If there be with him .... an interpreter 
to show man what is right for him, 
then God is gracious to him .... [Job 33 : 19-24], 

Yet it was characteristic that all this should have been set in a cos- 
mic system responsive to the conscious decision of a personal God. 
When the nation sinned, God sent defeat and other disasters: such 
is the clearly enunciated teaching of the Book of Judges, and such, 
too, is the warning of the prophets. God apportions good or ill in 
accord with human conduct. But the reahsra of the Hebrew mind 
insured that such oversimplification should not finally suffice. 
Presently men came to see that the facts of life are far too complex 
for any such formulation. The considerable body of literature that 
deals with this problem is familiar to every reader of die Old 
Testament. Notably certain psalms sought a deeper explanation 
that would accord with experience. Some of these efforts do not 
impress us; they are little more than a reaffirmation of the dogma 
that retribution overtakes the wicked in this life; they concede 
only that the mills of the gods may grind slowly. The conviction of 
the author of Psalm 73, from which we have already cited, is: 

Surely thou dost set them in slippery places. ... . 

How are they become a desolation in a moment! 


But the effort to find a satisfying response to the troubles of the 
righteous was somewhat better. This same poet goes on: 

Nevertheless I am continually with thee; 
thou dost hold my right hand. 

Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel 
and afterward wilt receive me with honor. 

The classic treatment of the problem, as everyone knows, is in 
the Dialogue of the Book of Job. The author represents Job as mov- 
ing on through despair and resentment to a dawning concept of the 
place of suffering in the world and to faith and hope, at length ex- 
pressed in the notable words of chapter 23 : 

He knows the way that I take; 

when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. 

Israel did not evolve some logical formulation which might be 
considered a complete explanation of suffering. But with their con- 
viction of the moral reality in the universe and their recognition of 
unseen but transcendent values in life, it was not strange that at 
the farthest outreach of their thought these thinkers should assert 
a solution in the direction of such values, even if they, as we also, 
could not formulate precisely the nature of that solution. More 
simply, Israel’s answer was in her religious faith. 

Still the understanding of human freedom was not so simple as 
our statement might indicate. We recall the experience of the 
Pharaoh of the Exodus, who doubtless would have released his He- 
brew slaves, but always at the critical moment the Lord hard- 
ened his heart. And lest there be doubt of the divine interference, 
the Lord is represented as explaining, “In very deed for this cause 
have I caused thee to stand to show thee my power and that my 
name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exod. 9:16). The 
king was not free; his decisions were determined by God in the 
interests of ultimate divine plans. A writer in the Book of Prov- 
erbs, indeed, gathers up such speculation into a general statement: 

The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; 
as watercourses he turneth it whithersoever he will [Prov. 21:1]. 

That goes far in a doctrine of determinism. Jeremiah’s oracle in 
the potter’s house, also, is famous for its similar interpretation. 



The Lord was the great potter, shaping the nations to his desire 
(Jeremiah, chap. 18) . And the vision of Micaiah ben Imlah is like- 
wise to be considered. He claimed to have witnessed a lying spirit 
going out from the presence of the Lord, which now, he charged, 
was misleading King Ahab’s official prophets in order to seduce 
him to his death (I Kings, chap. 22) . The philosophy of Ecclesi- 
astes, too, will suggest itself at this point; his cosmic wheel of fare 
by the revolutions of which all events come round in their proper 
sequence is patently a theory of determinism. ‘Yet all these, and 
the rest of similar sort that may be adduced, are subject to qualifi- 
cation. Certainly Ecclesiastes considered himself free to choose 
when he undertook his experiments relative to the worth of life. 
It is claimed, in fact, that his discussion throughout is aimed at 
asserting human freedom. But, however that may be, there can be 
no doubt that he regarded man as somehow standing outside the 
universal process and able to survey it critically in full intellectual 
freedom. He realized the compulsive force of circumstance, but 
in some way, for him, man was free to choose his course even 
though not able to achieve his ends. It is notable, too, in regard to 
the stories of the Pharaoh and of Ahab that the monarch’s normal 
freedom is clearly implied. Why did the Lord go to all the trouble 
of sending a lying spirit if he could instead merely have decreed 
that Ahab should think it right to go to Ramoth Gilead? And the 
interference in the Pharaoh’s decisions was obviously an abnormal, 
divine act. The situation seems to clarify itself thus: with their 
notable realism, the Hebrews regarded human freedom as obvious 
and axiomatic. Yet, having said that, they recognized that they had 
not exhausted the problem. For they held firmly to a divine pur- 
pose and process in history. And history is only human life in the 
large. Hence if God is shaping human ends, he must at times inter- 
fere in individual thought and will. For one phase of this there was 
a ready explanation; the prophets by profession sought to subordi- 
nate their minds to divine impulse. Hence God could through them 
intervene in human affairs. For the rest no clear answer was given 
as to how God could direct history. The important matter, how- 
ever, is that, while holding firmly to a belief in human freedom, 
Israel nonetheless realized that it was a complex and contentious 


But it will be recognized that about this point a more comprehen- 
sive issue was forcing itself on Hebrew thought. The question as 
to why the mind takes a certain course in given circumstances is the 
open door to the entire psychological problem which we have been 
prone to regard as a contribution of the Hellenic genius. Yet Is- 
rael’s thinkers by and through their own intellectual habits turned 
their inquisitive eyes backward upon themselves to inquire how 
their minds behaved. 

With their characteristically direct approach to reality, they 
never seriously doubted the validity of human mental processes 
or the power of the mind to apprehend truth. They were familiar 
with the fact of deception, both of the ordinary sort, where some 
malicious individual presents as truth what actually is false, and of 
the more insidious kind referred to just now that was attributed to 
the interference of an unfriendly spirit. This latter, it will be recog- 
nized, was a subjective experience. And it is well to realize that in 
this they were dealing with experiences common to us as well. 
Our thinking, at times even our senses, can play most callous 
tricks on us, so that we are positive of having seen or heard things 
that in reality never occurred. For us a solution may be sought in 
psychology; the Hebrews found it in external spirits. The observa- 
tion is the same; the explanation differs. To this extent, then, the 
Hebrew thinkers were ready to concede a dubious character to 
human processes of knowledge. But, in the ordinary, one might 
trust the evidence of his senses and the concepts which his mental 
processes deduced from sense experience. Knowledge was basical- 
ly a matter of sense perception. But again Israel avoided oversim- 
plification. The prophets speak much of a knowledge of God — it is 
a great phrase with Hosea in particular — yet they had left far be- 
hind the simple faith that he was to be experienced by ordinary 
sight and hearing. Nonetheless, the senses, along with the mental 
processes that compound experience into knowledge, provided for 
the Hebrew an indubitably valid understanding of reality — ^up to 
the point of the limitations of these; for there were areas of truth 
that for one reason or another lay outside the normal knowing 

The Hebrew psychological system is familiar, perhaps danger- 
ously so, for it has been misinterpreted. The threefold division 



into body, soul, and spirit, apparent in the New Testament, seems 
to carry back into the Old as well, for one can easily assume that it 
is met with in the creation stories, to speak of no other. And be- 
yond dispute Hebrew has different words corresponding to these 
assumed entities. Yet there is also through the Old Testament fre- 
quent reference to organs or parts of the body to which are ascribed 
special functions, or, in some cases, near-independence, in human 
consciousness and action. It is an idea that again points us to the 
New Testament, for it is suggestive of Paul’s famous debate among 
the members of the body as to relative importance (I Cor. 12:12- 
26) . But actually the concept of personality was by no means as 
chaotic as this would suggest. There is no doubt that all members 
were subordinate to the central consciousness, whatever that was. 
Yet the function of the organs calls for some attention. A remark- 
able fact is that no mention is made anywhere of the brain. In those 
days when heads were somewhat commonly smashed, the He- 
brews must have been familiar with the strange jelly-like matter 
that fills the skull; but the odd fact is that they never ascribed any 
function to it or even considered it deserving of a name. Perhaps 
this was because it seems a thoroughly passive substance; in any 
case, as a modern commentator has facetiously remarked, the 
Hebrews had no brain! But they speak frequently of the heart, 
which is sometimes clearly the organ we mean by that word, but 
often is only vaguely one’s insides. To this they attributed much 
of the function of the brain. But the liver also, the kidneys, and the 
bowels were for them important centers of human consciousness 
and volition. It is commonly held that some or all of these were as- 
sociated with the emotions, and, while there is in this a measure of 
truth, yet the contrast of mouth and kidneys (Jer. 12:2) paralleled 
elsewhere with that of mouth and heart (Isa. 29:13; Ezek. 33:31) 
reveals the looseness of the concept. Further, we recall the fa- 
miliar passage: “My kidneys also instruct me in the night season” 

It becomes apparent that there was no clear division of organic 
functions. And while the difference of the emotional, rational, and 
volitional aspects of consciousness were to some degree recognized, 
there was no clear analysis, if even any admission, of the desirabil- 
ity of such analysis. This deficiency, as it must seem to us, was in 


actuality related to Israel’s major attainment in the understanding 
of personality. For it is evident on closer study that the threefold 
division of the personality is likewise more apparent than real. 
While it is tme that the Hebrew word translated “soul” common- 
ly denotes the appetites, and in other cases the physical life, and 
while that rendered “spirit” can mean something approximating 
our idea of personality, actually such distinction is not consistent, 
if indeed it was ever consciously applied. At the most the terms 
signify not different entities but different aspects of the personal- 
ity; and even so they were in later times treated as- practically 
synonymous. And thus man is of two, not three, aspects: the body, 
which is the organism in its physical being and functions, and the 
soul-spirit that accounts for all the rest, comprising as it does what- 
ever rises into consciousness — for the Hebrew had another ex- 
planation for what we are accustomed to speak of as the subcon- 
scious. But between these uvo there is no separation or antithesis; 
they are but complementary aspects of a single whole. The human 
personality is a single, indivisible unit. It has been well said that, 
for the Hebrew, man is not an incarnate spirit — that is a Greek 
idea; he is an animated body. Israel admitted no dualism of mind 
and body with a sort of antithesis and rivalry between them; but 
man was one single unified organism and personality. As we have 
seen, these ancient thinkers were fully aware of the conflict that 
perpetually is joined within the human consciousness, our nobler 
impulses forever struggling against the selfish and bestial in our 
nature. In later times the biblical phrases yetser tobh and yetser ra^ 
(the good will and the bad will) were much in use in discussions of 
man’s contradictory instincts. But Israel’s thinkers refused to solve 
the problem by the simple device of posmlating a divine origin for 
the one and a material or diabolical for the other. For man was 
one; and his conduct, be it high or low, was his own to determine 
in accord with the dictates of his whole nature. 

Important as was Israel’s attainment in her conviction of the 
unity of the human personality, it must yet be freely recognized 
that her psychological interests did not carry into a study of the 
responses of the organism. Of the nervous system they knew 
nothing; to the complicated interrelation between body and mind 
they gave but elementary attention. It is to be admitted that Is- 



rael’s genius was not scientific. For the science of the ancient East 
we must look to Egypt and Babylonia, from whom Israel took her 
concepts, modifying them profoundly, it is true, in their religious 
aspects, but making little change in their scientific content. The 
Hebrews’ achievement in their own peculiar sphere was so notable 
that the most ardent Judeophile need not hesitate to concede the 
vast areas where Israel accepted a status of secondhand scholar- 

Yet, however this may be, there is an aspect of the Hebrews’ 
knowledge of psychology that calls for no apology. That is their 
understanding of human motivation and its emergence in conduct. 
It is typical of the attitude of the Old Testament as a whole that 
the rampant wickedness of the time of the Flood is traced to “the 
whole imagination of the thoughts of the heart” of the people of the 
time. And it is to this quality that the narratives owe much of their 
contemporaneity, a psychological interest which, while admit- 
tedly less than that of modern storytellers, is a worthy antecedent. 
The heroes of Hebrew story walk before us not as painted figures 
of imagined perfection; their biographers reveal with mthless can- 
dor their foibles and selfishness. Sometimes it is by a revealing in- 
cident, commonly, however, by a telling analysis of what the sub- 
ject of the story “thought in his heart” — but, by whatever means, 
the writers succeed in portraying the inmost nature of the men and 
women who under their hands move across the scene before us. 

This sense of the centrality of character and the ability to sketch 
and develop the characters of their heroes is one aspect of the no- 
table excellence of Hebrew narrative. A high place must be accord- 
ed the story of Joseph, who in a spirit of revenge, it might seem, 
dealt harshly with his brothers, but whose real magnanimity the 
evolution of the plot reveals. It reveals another feature also in 
the reiterated inquiry for “that old man your father,” still more in 
the impressive episode where he makes himself known to the 
brothers: his first words were, “I am Joseph. Is my father yet 
alive?” The writers tell us, too, of Abraham, “the prince of God,” 
who yet was so frightened in a crisis that he had his wife screen 
him widi a lie— or was it only half a lie? And Moses, the paragon 
of meekness as well as of piety, lost his temper and so was de- 
barred from entering the land. King Saul of the independent spirit 


that would not be servile to any priest-prophet however revered 
gradually deteriorates before our eyes through a mental break- 
down. The vital David, hero of Israel, of whose shortcomings the 
less said the better; pompous Solomon; Rehoboam, whose dream 
was to make himself a despot; Elijah, the perpetually untamed 
Gileadite; imperious Jezebel, defiant to the last; the headlong Jehu, 
whose murderous impetuosity simmered down into mediocrity- 
striking individuals as they all are, their records are not less note- 
worthy for the insights of the nameless men who penned them. 

However, with such psychic equipment as we have sketched, 
man, according to Hebrew thought, undertook the joys and tasks 
of life and confronted its problems. Knowledge, then, was a di- 
rect experience or, at most, a result of experience, that brought the 
individual into direct contact with objective reality. Epistemologi- 
cal dualism was unheard of; man could and did know reality by 
immediate contact. Yet the limitation of knowledge, that is, the 
limitation of the human potentiality of knowledge, was fully 
recognized. In considerable part this was apparently nothing but a 
reflex of the imperfect science of the time. Man was surrounded by 
a vast and mysterious world that he possessed no method or means 
of investigating. There was no answer to the problems of the heav- 
ens above and the teeming phenomena of the world beneath but 
the leap of the mind into speculation which had already produced 
the multiform vagaries so ably surveyed in the chapters by Pro- 
fessors Wilson and Jacobsen. But Israel grew noticeably weary of 
the uncharted areas of pure imagination, as much of this gradually 
came to be considered. Ecclesiastes, we have already pointed out, 
displayed a really scientific mood, even if his methods must be ad- 
judged crude. Israel’s contact with Babylonian astronomy likewise 
was mentioned above; hence Ecclesiastes’ investigation must not 
by any means be thought of as a pioneer scientific venture. But it is 
close to that in its application of an empirical method, however im- 
perfect, to the problems of psychology and philosophy. 

His results were none too impressive; and certainly we may de- 
scribe them as unhappy for himself, for they served only to corrob- 
orate his conviction that “all is vanity.” But in how much worse 
position he was when he attempted the whole problem of man and 
the world! To his credit as a thinker, he claimed no success. On 



the contrary, he felt himself narrowly confined in an intellectual 
ghetto from which there was no egress; in simple terms, he was 
ignorant of the nature of things; he knew it, yet saw no way of cor- 
recting it. His failure was so complete that he came to believe he 
suffered from some personal obstruction. It was God himself who, 
jealous of his prerogatives, was withstanding the free course of 
human investigation. It is a mood closely parallel to that of the 
Tower of Babel story, except only that Ecclesiastes is not inhibited 
by the piety of the other; he would push into the abodeof the divine, 
restrained only by misgivings for his safety. He wants most of all 
to know and understand. It is to his credit that a considerable 
part of his pessimism is directly due to intellecmal frustration. We 
shall doubtless feel somewhat qualified respect for his explanation 
of this situation; yet we may not be too severe in our disdain, for, 
like most thinkers, he merely took over uncritically considerable 
of the thought of his time. Ben Sira expresses well a characteristic 
attitude, “Seek not out things that are too hard for thee .... but 
what is commanded thee think thereon .... for more things are 
showed thee than men understand” (Ecclus. 3.21-23). “The 
heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to God,” another writer 
asserted, “but the earth has he given to the sons of men” (Ps. 115: 
16). To pry into the secrets of the divine was blasphemous im- 
piety. The view was fostered by the conviction that knowledge 
is power; there were realms of truth reserved for divine ex- 
ploitation, by virtue of which superhuman wonders were wrought; 
but for man to appropriate such was cosmic larceny! Out of this 
attitude grew Israel’s conscience against traffic with magic-work- 
ers of whatever sort, a restraint that seems to carry a reminiscence 
of the primeval tragedy when our first parents took sinfully of the 
forbidden tree of knowledge. 

The orthodox attitude, then, was that God had revealed to man 
as much of the ultimate nature of things as was good for him. In- 
deed, even the commonplace knowledge of practical things such 
as for us lies close to scientific discovery was, for the devout at 
least, also a matter of divine revelation. One writer, we saw, tells 
how the practice of the peasant in his tillage and care of his crops 
was taught to him by the Lord (Isa. 28 : 23-29) . It is a view which, 
obviously, looks back to the primeval myth of the divine school- 


ing of man in the ways of civilization, and forward to the whole 
basic theory of the wise men, of which more in a moment. Yet 
we must not confuse the present issue with this inclusive be- 
lief, for we are concerned now to understand Israel’s concept of 
the knowing process. That most of it was by normal sense and in- 
tellectual activity has already been emphasized. But we are con- 
cerned to see that a knowledge which lay beyond human capacity 
was, according to accepted dogma, given by direct divine inter- 
vention. And the mediums, it is apparent, were primarily priest and 

In the priesthood there was a growing tradition of religious 
precepts that were accepted as of divine origin and authority. But, 
when we push the matter back to the rise of these directives, we 
come face to face with the basic character of the priest as the per- 
sonal attendant and minister of the god. He was precisely on a par 
with the servants and attendants of noblemen and royalty; in just 
the same way he ministered to the god. The fact that his lord was 
a presence at most visible in the image made no difference in 
the basic concepts. Like the cupbearers and other valets of the 
ancient world, his close association with his lord gave him oppor- 
tunity to learn his character and his will. But it will be apparent 
that the valet had the advantage that his master could and did speak 
to him by an audible voice. Denied this direct revelation of the 
god’s will, the priest depended on some ancient theory equivalent 
to our adage that actions speak louder than words. He learned from 
what the god did. Stories such as the sudden death of Uzzah when 
he touched the ark or of the tragedy of Aaron’s sons when they of- 
fered “strange fire” are eloquent of the growth of the priestly tra- 
dition. Briefly, the priest secured his revelation by the astute use of 
his normal wits! 

The method has illuminating illustration in the procedure of the 
Babylonian augurs, who, it would appear, worked out an organiza- 
tion for report of unusual occurrences to central priestly agencies, 
so that if even a fox jumped into a vineyard, the fact was solemnly 
recorded as data in accord with which, first, to relate important 
events and, later, to predict them. If we might concede the priests’ 
theory that “coming events cast their shadows before” in signs and 
portents, then it would appear that the augur priest was an ancient 

MAN 283 

scientist, carefully gathering his data, discovering their meaning 
by observation, and then proceeding to the conclusion that similar 
phenomena have always a similar result. This characterization is 
further enhanced by the activity of the magician, illegitimate priest 
as he was, who is commonly recognized to have been in some way 
ancestor of the modern scientist. 

Similar was the means of revelation through the wise men, as 
they themselves would have admitted. They were primarily stu- 
dents of the course of human life. Their observations were made by 
completely normal human faculties, and their conclusions were de- 
duced by ordinary processes of thought. But the prophet, as dis- 
tinct from both priest and sage, received his revelation deep in his 
own consciousness by means that for him were genuinely super- 
natural. He did not deprecate the normal use of the mind; on the 
contrary, his criticism not infrequently was that the people did not 
observe and think. But he held fast the conviction that there is a 
means of valid knowledge quite independent of sense experience. 
True, the terms employed in regard to prophetic visions imply a 
belief in a sort of sublimated use of the senses; the prophet passed 
into direct contact with the unseen world of spiritual reality and 
there received knowledge by seeing and hearing matters that were 
not discerned by the ordinary senses. Still, it is freely recognized 
that we caricamre the career of the prophets if we demand an 
ecstatic experience as prelude to every utterance; our sources for 
the activities of the great prophets lead us to believe that it was 
actually quite rare, if not for some of them nonexistent. Nonethe- 
less, the prophets were obviously sincere in their claim that their 
message was received from the Lord. The conclusion, then, is ines- 
capable that they believed fully in a process of knowledge quite 
divorced from sense experience but operative through channels of 
consciousness that we may loosely speak of as thought and feeling. 
It was very close to what is now sometimes called intuition. The 
importance of this in Israel’s religious apologetics has already been 
noted. But also, evolving from the prophetic experience, a sense of 
personal relationship and communion with the divine became al- 
most a standard feature of Jewish religion. It is deserving of the em- 
phasis of repetition that such suprasensuous knowledge was ac- 
cepted as a valid experience of reality. 


Precisely this epistemological problem is one of the issues in the 
debate of Job with his friends. Stung by his own unmerited suifer- 
ing and the shallow advice of the friends, Job breaks out in blas- 
phemous denunciation of the ways of God, calling him to account 
before human standards of right. But in despair of justice he ques- 
tions, “How can man be just with God?” Typical of the friends’ 
position throughout, but also of orthodoxy in all ages, Zophar re- 

The deepest things of God canst thou find out, 
canst thou find out the Almighty completely?” [Job 11:7.] 

Such, too, is the theme of the pious reflections in the speeches of 
Yahweh. The might of the divine creation and rule of the physical 
universe overwhelm the inquisitive Job so that he contritely passes 
judgment on his questionings. 

I have uttered that which I understood not, 
things too wonderful for me which I knew not .... 
wherefore I abhor myself 
and repent in dust and ashes [Job 42 : 3-6] . 

Yet it is a very different Job who is presented by the bold spirit 
who penned the matchless words of the Dialogue. For Job in his 
thinking is a naturalist; he demands a meeting with God, where, 
armed only with his human intelligence, he may talk with him as 
one talks with a friend. He fears the might of God and wishes for 
an intermediary to preside over his high debate; he despairs of such 
a meeting this side of the grave; but soon or late, wherever he may 
come before him. Job is confident that he will find God a being of 
manlike rationality. 

Mbuld he contend with me in the greamess of his power? 

Nay, but he would give heed unto me. 

There the upright might reason with him. 

So should I be delivered forever from my judge [Job 23 : 6-7]. 

But all this, for the friends, is shocking irreverence. For them the 
nature of God is 

Higher than heaven, what canst thou do: 

Deeper than Shekel, what canst thou know? [Job 11:8-9.] 



Nonetheless, they claim a knowledge of God — it is so armed that 
they accost Job with advice as to his recovery of divine favor — and 
its source is clear. Like many persons from that day to the present, 
they believed that, by setting the acquisition of knowledge in the 
remote past, they not alone enhanced its authority but at the same 
time bridged the gulf that separates from the unseen. For them 
there was a valid knowledge of God handed down from remote 
antiquity: accept this, they said, and leam of him! Yet they boast 
themselves as independent investigators; they have examined the 
dogmas they unload on Job and found them true (Job 5:27). But, 
like exponents of modem authoritative systems of theology, they 
exercised their criticism well within the limits of the system and 
then claimed that their research confirmed the faith once delivered 
to the saints. But Job will have none of it! Hard and inescapable 
facts have destroyed his former credulity. Now he is launched on 
the wide seas of uncharted truth, guided only by his human facul- 
ties. And Eliphaz rebukes him: “How hard is thy heart and how 
haughty thine eyes!” (Job 1 5 : 12-13.) In such free questioning he 
is setting his spirit against God. Job, he charges, denies the possi- 
bility of a knowledge of God, whereas the notable fact is that he 
himself is in essentially that position; he is Barthian in his repudia- 
tion of the adequacy of the human mind for a knowledge of God. 
Then, true to such orthodoxy to this very day, having repudiated 
the guidance of intelligence, he has no protection against credulity. 
Like devotees of certain of the dogmatic religions of our time, he is 
positively gullible in his acceptance of the supernatural; even his 
absurd ghost story is for him valid revelation of a truth so trite 
that any common man in the street might have told it to him, a 
truth which, however, he believed the human mind could not itself 
apprehend! The crux of the dispute, it will be seen, hinges about 
the so-called “will to believe” from which into superstition there 
exists a “facilis descensus Avemo.” Job, though not less a man of 
faith, demands a respectable basis for his belief. 

Now, it will be apparent that Job— no, rather we must say, the 
great unknown thinker who composed the Dialogue — ^was in his 
mentality a man of the modem world. He demands that thought 
proceed from fact to sound conclusion: only so can knowledge be 


gained. Indeed, it is a formulation of just this principle and its ap- 
plication to theological speculation which constitutes one of the as- 
tonishing, though commonly overlooked, features of this remark- 
able poem. Job, as we have seen, repudiates the traditional lore 
which the friends pour on him in too generous measure. And why? 
Because they do not practice sound and honest thinking! To that 
very speech in which Zophar had raised the issue of a knowledge of 
God, Job replies: 

Hear now my reasoning 
and hearken to the argument of my lips. 

Will ye speak unrighteously for God 
and talk deceitfully for him? 

Will ye show partiality for him? 

Will ye argue on his behalf? 

Will it be good that he search you 
if as one trifles with a man ye trifle with him? 

He will surely reprove you 
if in secret ye show partiality. 

“In secret,” that is, in the secret of their own consciousness, under 
the cloak and restaint of piety, they were deceiving themselves 
with shoddy reasoning which was nothing less than applying in- 
ferior categories of thought to religious problems. Briefly, we have 
here the charter of the entire modem critical mood and movement 
in religious thinking. 

But we err if we suppose that with this illustration we exhaust 
the matter. On the contrary, there is evidence of a pervasive recog- 
nition of the demands of sound principles of religious thinking. I am 
indebted to Professor Meek of the University of Toronto for an 
illustration from that most orthodox of documents, the Book of 
Deuteronomy. In our common translation (American Standard 
Version) the passage runs: “Take heed to yourselves lest your 
heart be deceived and ye turn aside and serve other gods” (Deut. 
11 : 16 ). Professor Meek has translated “. . . . lest your mind be- 
come so open that you turn aside. . . . .” It is a valuable insight; 
for, while the verb is not the common one “to open,” yet it is close- 
ly related and ultimately means the same. So the passage, just as 
Professor Meek has rendered it, is a warning against too great 
openness of mind, a loose and easy tolerance that fails to distin- 



guish things which look alike but in essence are quite different. 
Religion and ethics, the author seems to say, demand for their 
highest expression careful and precise habits of mind. How much 
of the long story of Israel’s religious advance is gathered up in the 
attitude here briefly glimpsed! 

But this same verb is the root from which one of the common 
words for the “fool” is derived. This famed but unfortunate char- 
acter of Old Testament pages, whom the sages would instruct, 
from whose blunders they would warn the young, is in reality, 
then, nothing more than a simple-minded fellow whose worst qual- 
ity is just that he does not know and does not practice sound think- 
ing. And such principles are well suggested by the antithesis set 
forth by the wise men themselves: “The simple believes every- 
thing, but the prudent gives thought to his course” (Prov. 14:15). 
He thinks about the way he is going, about the observed facts of 
life and all that may be rightly deduced from them as to ends and 
means. For we have seen enough to realize that for Israel’s think- 
ers the first step in sound methods of thought was the accumula- 
tion of relevant facts. They did not, it is true, give us treatises on 
correct methods of analysis, classification, and appraisal of those 
facts and proper deduction from them. But it is clear that they knew 
and practiced such procedures even though their methods had not 
attained the perfection implied in self-conscious organization. 

Such then was Israel’s treatment of the problem of knowledge, 
both secular and religious. Much of it was a new thing in the his- 
tory of human thinking, and not a little has been of profound sig- 
nificance in the sequel. Yet, reverting to our main theme, there re- 
mains an aspect of the Hebrew thought of man and his place in the 
world that can be regarded as little less than astonishing. Its far- 
reaching importance has received too slight attention even from 
biblical specialists. 

The Orient had long concerned itself with the pursuit of “Wis- 
dom,” an entity which, at first highly utilitarian, presently came 
to comprise the total of the intellectual culture of the age. The 
wise man was the educated as well as sagacious man. The Hebrew 
sages were fully conscious of the activity and results of their col- 
leagues; from quite early in the history of Israel’s life in Palestine 


we begin to hear of the importance of the “wise” who must be 
regarded as in some way a bequest of the great Canaanite civiliza- 
tion. And there is a revealing passage in the account of Solomon’s 
wisdom that compares him with famed sages of the non-Hebrew 

Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the East, and all 
the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, 
and Heman and Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all 
the lands round about [I Rings 4:30-31]. 

Yet Israel’s wisdom movement traversed a history parallel to 
that in “the lands round about.” From an early engrossment in 
practical ends it was compelled by force of circumstance to con- 
sider wider implications and values. Yet even the cultural interest 
from Solomon’s time onward continued to be, so our too meager 
evidence would indicate, largely utilitarian. It was the Exile, that 
most profound experience of the Hebrew people, which, touching 
and transforming all aspects of Jewish life, compelled a new and 
deeper concept of wisdom. Highly revealing for us, then, is a lyric 
passage dating from somewhere in this late period: 

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom 
and the man that gaineth understanding! 

For the gaining thereof is better than the gaining 
of silver 

and the profit thereof than fine gold. 

She is more precious than rubies 
and all the things of desire are not comparable 
to her [Prov. 3:13-15]. 

The striking feamre of this is the repudiation of precisely those 
good things which earlier sages had accepted as the ends of life: 
gold, silver, rubies, things of desire. Since the days of the Egyptian 
sage Ptahhotep these had been prized as the mark and content of 
life’s worth. But here some Hebrew thinker — rather, it appears, 
the entire late school of Hebrew sages— asserts boldly that there 
is something else in life which far transcends them, or through 
which at most these can best be enjoyed. It is evident that, in re- 
jection of tangible good, the writer speaks of the unseen, finer 
things of life, all the beauty and goodness and intellectual elevation 
which redeem us from our brute heritage. But in view of the oft- 



emphasized aphorism that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of 
wisdom, it is certain that the author thinks of religious faith and 
conduct as holding also an honored, if not primary, place among 
such human treasure. We should greatly err if we were to claim 
that at this point the idea first dawned on human thought through 
the insight of this Hebrew poet. But it does mark clear gain to have 
it formulated and emphasized as here. 

However, we move on to a striking development of the theme. 
All students of the Old Testament are familiar with the words 

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his wa^ 
before his works of oM. 

I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning 
before the earth was. 

When there were no depths I was brought forth 
when there were no fountains abounding with water 

And so the writer runs on through a poetic survey of the wonders 
of creation, to the concluding thought: 

When he established the heavens I was there .... 
when he marked out the foundations of the earth: 

then I was by him as a master-workman 
and I was daily his delight 
rejoicing always before him 

rejoicing in his habitable earth, 

and my delight was with the sons of men [Prov. 8:22-31]. 

It is wisdom that speaks: wisdom which just now we have seen to 
be the finest attainment of human aspiration. But this same wisdom 
here declares herself as pre-existent, associating with God in crea- 
tion, so that without her “was not anything made that was made.” 

Much energy has been wasted in speculating as to whether the 
writer here conceives of an acmal person associated with God be- 
fore the world was and how such heresy could ever have been ex- 
pressed by a devout Jew. But is it not so obvious as the nose on a 
face that in this poetic passage the writer is employing imagery to 
express an idea which he hoped others would have enough intelli- 
gence to grasp? This mysterious pre-existent personification is 
nothing but an aspect of the character of God; by virtue of his be- 
ing this sort of a God he made the world. He took, we might say, 
this attribute and built it into the nature of things as they are, most 


of all into the being of man. Here is the answer to the baffling fact 
that the writer has used the same word for the human quality and 
for this supernal, pre-existent reality. They are, he undertakes to 
say with emphasis, one and the same thing. It is human because it 
was first divine and was so made a pervasive quality of God’s 
whole creation. All our best achievements, all our highest hopes 
and aspirations, all that the mind and soul of man has attained or 
even dreamed, this ancient thinker asserts, is in accord with the 
deepest nature of things. For the ultimate reality in the physical 
world is the wisdom of God! 

Now, it will be apparent that we have here a remarkable parallel 
to the notion of universal ideas that took so important a place in 
Plato’s speculation as well as to the Stoic thought of the pervasive 
divine reason. But what does the similarity signify? For we have 
already pointed out that the biblical passage is late, and, though we 
cannot date it within a couple of centuries, there is no good basis 
for denying that it is not earlier than Plato and may easily be as 
late as Zeno. Once more, then, we confront the perplexing ques- 
tion of a possible Greek influence upon Israel in one of its most 
notable attainments. But the answer is even more clear than in our 
previous dilemma. If borrowing is to be asserted — observe, if it 
is to be — then the direction was clearly from East to West, not 
the reverse. For this concept is so firmly rooted in the thought of 
the ancient East, which had speculated for many centuries upon 
divine wisdom and the divine word, that there can be not a doubt 
this notable exposition of the theme in the Book of Proverbs is 
Israel’s own. The Hebrew thinkers have here, as so often, sub- 
limated and transcended their oriental heritage, making it their 
own and making it a new thing in the process. But they needed no 
Greek, not even Plato, to teach them about the wisdom of God. 

But we have not yet exhausted the concept. We turn again to the 
great poem in Proverbs: 

Doth not wisdom cry 
and understanding put forth her voice? 

On the top of the high places by the way, 
where the paths meet, she standeth, 
beside the gates, at the entry of the city, 
at the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud: 



“Unto you, O men, I call, 

and my voice is to the sons of men. 

O ye simple understand prudence, 

and ye fools be of an understanding heart 

'Receive my instruction and not silver, 
and knowledge rather than fine gold. 

For wisdom is better than rubies, 
and all the things that may be desired are not to be 
compared unto her” [8 : 1-1 1] . 

Wisdom we first saw as a human attainment, then as a cosmic 
quality immanent in the world and in human life. Here we discover 
the nexus of the two. In poetic terminology, she stands in the busi- 
est concourse of human affairs, wherever man may be, and there 
accosts all and sundry. Receive instruction; choose the better 
things of life; final satisfaction cannot be found in material things 
but only in the uncharted region vaguely known as the spiritual 
realities of life. This pervasive, immanent quality of life and the 
world has been ever active in human life, individual and collective, 
in leading, persuading, and inducing men to higher and better 
things. Through this function of the divine wisdom immanent in 
man the whole long story has come about of our groping progress 
from our brute ancestry, our slow attainment of civilization, and 
our unceasing outreach for ever better things in thought and 

Here, then, is the ultimate nature of man. He was made in the 
image of God and but little lower than God; but also he is infused 
and impelled and fashioned by the wisdom of God himself. By na- 
ture man may be related to the brute, but vastly more significant 
is his kinship with God and participation in the wisdom of God. 
Here is that concept familiar in the words quoted by a later think- 
er: “In him we live and move and have our being.” All the talk of 
certain modem schools of theology about the lost condition of man 
apart from God would have been to the Hebrew thinker just so 
much crackling of thorns under a pot. For him such a being never 
has existed. Always from the first to be human was to possess the 
divine wisdom. And the difference among men, the distinction of 
wise and fool, of righteous and sinner, has been in the measure 
with which the individual has heard and then given willing obedi- 
ence to the appeals of wisdom. 


And here is the notable supremacy of the Hebrew thought above 
its apparent parallel in Plato. His was a republic for philosophers; 
these only could enter into the accumulated heritage of finer racial 
treasures. But for the Hebrew thinker the appeal of wisdom was to 
all men wherever and whatever they might be; in particular it 
called to the simple and foolish for whom Plato would have had 
only a place of menial service. 

Yet there is still more for our purpose in this concept. It is appar- 
ent that here is the bridge between the human and divine; by this 
means God and man have come into relationship. All that we have 
achieved as we have left behind our savage origins and have 
climbed higher and yet higher in civilized life has been through the 
leadings of the divine wisdom. And this, it is to be noted, came not 
through some heaven-rending voice or aweful theophany, but with- 
in the individual consciousness, as our better nature, comprised of 
the indwelling divine wisdom, strove against our brute ancestry, 
ever warning: “Receive my instraction and not silver and knowl- 
edge rather than choice gold.” The whole of history is thus gath- 
ered up for the Hebrew thinker in a single formula. And here is the 
doctrine of divine revelation. It has all come by this quiet, un- 
spectacular, but effective means. Man is but little lower than God; 
and the divine in us has been slowly overcoming the bestial. 



T he concept of the wise men, that there is pervasive through- 
out the world and immanent in man a mysterious urge toward 
better things which they called the Wisdom of God, had a long 
sequel in the history of our thinking. It was taken up by the au- 
thors of the Books of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon. 
The former identified the divine wisdom with the Torah. In this 
we are not to see an excess of legalism but, on the contrary, his 
high appraisal of wisdom: it contained all the best in human life; it 
was the revelation of God. But, since this latter function was ful- 
filled by the Torah, then the conclusion was inescapable that the 
two were one and the same. 

The author of the Wisdom of Solomon gave the concept a dif- 
ferent turn, not less significant for our purposes, although at first 
glance one is prone to dismiss him in disappointment, for he adds 
little to the thought of Proverbs, merely incorporating certain 
Stoic phraseology into his discussion. Yet the meaning of this will 
be recognized. The author, and perhaps Jewish thought in general 
at that time, recognized the intimate relationship of the age-old 
speculation of the Orient to that of Greece; both had come to ex- 
press in differing terms but in essential unity the conviction that 
human life is infused with a pervasive entity which is more than 
human, finding its ultimate origin and namre in the being of the 

But, further, the thought in the Prologue of the Gospel of John is 
almost in its entirety a recapimlation of the description of wisdom 
in the Book of Proverbs. True, the latter does not emphasize the 
life-giving powers of wisdom, though this is not foreign to its 
thought, and some passages approximate such statement (3 ; 18, 22; 
4:13, 22; 7:2; 8: 35). Likewise, Proverbs does not employ the 
symbolism of light; but how negligible is this difference becomes 
apparent in the fact that the writer’s prime concern in the de- 
scription of wisdom was with human enlightenment. And as the 



Ghristian writer advances to his doctrine of the incarnation, he goes 
beyond Proverbs, but still only in application of the principles con- 
tained in the latter. There is no need to seek in Greek speculation 
for the origins of the Prologue, for it is practically all contained in 
the writer’s Jewish heritage, whether or not his thinking was stim- 
ulated by the Greek ideas. But Christian indebtedness to the great 
Jewish philosopher in the Book of Proverbs does not stop here; his 
thought has penetrated the very center of Christian theology. 
When Paul speaks of Christ as the power of God and the wisdom 
of God (I Cor. 1:24), when he presents him as the medium of 
creation (Col. 1:16), when he mentions wisdom, understanding, 
and knowledge as divine gifts to the believers, and when he formu- 
lates his doctrine of the pre-existent Christ who emptied himself to 
live among men (Phil. 2:6-8), it is clear that he is carrying over 
the thought of Proverbs into his concept of the person of Christ. 
And through him it has permeated subsequent Christology. 

It is clear, however, that the idea of Ecclesiasticus confronts us 
with a new aspect of Hebrew thought. And a moment’s considera- 
tion shows that the mood of the Wisdom of Solomon, also, 'and 
back of both the notable thought of Proverbs, carry the same im- 
plication. A pervasive quality in human life which everywhere 
sets before all men a standard of better conduct and ideals — ^here 
is clearly that concept which has played a very large part in the 
social and political life of the Western world under the name of 
natural law. It is commonly attributed to Greek speculation, and 
beyond a doubt it was given notable discussion by them. Yet the 
mere formulation of a definition shows that it was well recognized 
among the Hebrews; the course of our thought already has come 
upon it but now demands serious study of the matter. 

Natural law has been described as “a supreme unifying, con- 
trolling power manifesting itself in the universe at large. In so far 
as men are men they possess common.elements; and in their politi- 
cal and social life those elements inevitably emerge and are recog- 
nizable in custom and law. . . . . Such natural law represents the 
permanent portion of human law in general, and it is prior to and 
superior to positive legislation, which is only a supplement there- 
to.” It will be observed that the idea, then, looks in two directions. 



It comprehends the universal elements in the laws of all peoples, in 
“positive law” according to the terms of the definition. But beyond 
and subsuming this is the invisible, unwritten law, the universal 
sense of right which has reality only in human thought and ideals 
but expresses itself in a mood of judgment upon positive law as well 
as in just and right action that transcends legal requirements. It 
will be apparent, then, that Ecclesiasticus’ identification of the di- 
vine wisdom with the Torah is a statement of the anterior relation 
of natural law. For him it has absorbed positive law: the social and 
religious legislation of Israel rests upon, rather is identical with, 
u niversal principles, universally recognized wherever men pay 
heed to the leadings of wisdom. But Prov. 1-9, Ecclesiasticus, and 
the Wisdom of Solomon are all late bodies of literature; even the 
first is certainly well within the period vaguely spoken of as post- 
Exilic. Yet it is important to keep in mind die situation already em- 
phasized — that the speculation of Proverbs is rooted deep in the 
Orient: it is thoroughly Hebraic. And although the other two come 
from a time when Hellenism was admittedly making a profound 
impression upon Jewish life, marks of which are obvious in the 
Wisdom of Solomon, yet they likewise are of the Hebrew genius 
and stream of thought. The concept of natural law here expressed 
is Israel’s own achievement; its relation to that of Greece must be 
sought in other directions than one of dependence. And evidence 
is abundant that Israel recognized and discussed the matter in 
times when it lies beyond reasonable consideration to postulate in- 
fluence from the West. 

Israel was early impressed with the regularity of nature, as 
doubtless even primitive man likewise. The personal concept of 
the world and its phenomena then prevalent would seem to weaken 
this conviction, introducing an element of volitional caprice. But 
observed facts could not be evaded even on the grounds of religious 
presupposition; for whatever reason, nature was notably regu- 
lar. In Israel’s orthodox thought this was an evidence of the grace 
of God : he chose so to order his world for the benefit of man. The 
promise was of divine grace that. 

While the earth remaineth, 
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, 

summer and winter, and day and night, 
shall not cease [Gen. 8 : 221. 


The same thought, qualified only by some doubt of the accuracy of 
our received text, is expressed in Job 10 : 22. Some unknown writer, 
commenting on the gloomy land of the dead, mentioned as one of 
its most terrifying aspects that it had no order. The implication is 
clear; by contrast, the regularity and system of the known world 
making possible planning and purpose in human life instead of 
rendering it the bauble of caprice — briefly, the fact that this writer 
recognized the world to be an ordered cosmos made it for him a 
land of the living. Somewhat similar was the idea formulated by 
Jeremiah in his exhortation of his contemporaries: 

Let us now fear the Lord 
who giveth us the rain 
the early and the latter, in its season; 
who preserves for us 

the appointed weeks of harvest [Jer. 5:24]. 

Even the animals, it was believed, obey a law immanent in their 

The ox knoweth its owner 
and the ass its master’s crib [Isa. 1:3]. 

The stork in the heavens 
knoweth her appointed times; 
the turtledove and the swallow and the crane 
observe the time of their coming [Jer. 8:7]. 

Yet we do well to apply these utterances cautiously; for the two 
latter are used in rebuke of the speakers’ contemporaries, who, it 
is alleged, follow no such immanent principle. And Jeremiah’s ex- 
hortation that ascribes the cycle of the seasons to divine activity 
is prefaced with the flat statement that his contemporaries pay no 
regard to this view. And, indeed, our knowledge of Israel’s con- 
cept of the source of fertility shows that the belief in Yahweh as 
the giver and guardian of the increase of flock and field was hard 
won only through the struggle of a succession of prophets. From 
the time of the entry into the land, the people had accepted some- 
what fully the Canaanite theology which credited Baal with this 
bounty. The theological framework of the Book of Judges would 
have us believe that prophetic opposition to such infidelity arose 
contemporaneously— and the claim is plausible— but the earliest 



actual incident on which we can depend is the conduct of Elijah 
through the drought and the culminating contest on Mount Carmel 
(I Kings 17-18). It is apparent that the theme of this story is the 
power of the Lord to withhold the rains and then to give them 
when the repentant people recognize the futility of faith in Baal. 

However, a hundred years later, as attested by the utterances of 
Hosea, and still later, by those of Jeremiah, the faith in Baal as the 
source of fertility was still so prevalent as to amount practically 
to the popular religion of Israel. And this situation becomes mean- 
ingful for our present problem in the light of the well-known culms 
of Baal. The annual cycle of rites commemorating the death, and 
then the resurrection, of the god, it is freely recognized, were magi- 
cal. This stratum of Israelitish thinking was at the far extreme 
from the sense of an ordered regularity in namre expressed in pas- 
sages of which those cited above are typical. For the popular be- 
lief was that the magical rites were essential to the alleged resur- 
rection of the god, that is, to the regular cycle of the seasons. Far 
from believing in a fixed order of namre, the people conceived the 
only fixity and dependability to consist in a world of magic, for 
the operation of some part of which they possessed the secret. 
And, in this sense, they themselves were custodians of namre and 
its changes. Without their co-operation, neither magic nor the 
gods nor any other conceivable power would bring back the season 
of growth and reproduction. 

This conclusion seems to carry us still farther from any sense 
of order in namre. Yet a moment’s consideration dispels the illu- 
sion. Results in the form of fertility could and would come only as 
men voluntarily chose to perform the necessary magical rites, but 
the fact to be firmly grasped is that the world of magical powers 
stood constant, whether or not man invoked it. It would always 
react in one certain way to the performance of the proper rites. In 
that fact, as it was believed to be, lay the constancy and predicta- 
bility so notably lacking from the capricious gods. Further, this 
power was probably thought of primarily in impersonal terms, al- 
though there was a steady tendency to identify it with one or an- 
other of the gods — ^in Israel, obviously, with Yahweh. It was 
greater than the gods, for the distinction of Thoth in Egypt and of 
Ea in Babylonia was that these each possessed powerful knowl- 


edge. The reply of Ea to Marduk’s frequent consultation is familiar 
to every student of the ancient East: “What I know, thou knowest 
also, my son. Go”— and then there follow specific instructions for 
magic rituals. These gods knew how to invoke and vitalize this 
immense world of force that was not of themselves or of the other 
gods but could be employed by them for chosen purposes. 

The prevalence of such concepts in Israel is apparent, then, in 
the vogue of the fertility rites. But it was by no means confined to 
the common popular level with which we associate this cult. It per- 
vaded a wide area of Hebrew thought, even making its impress 
upon what we may call the orthodox religion. A notable illustra- 
tion of this is the concept that the prophets were magicians. Such 
is clearly the implication of Elijah’s conduct in the raising of the 
widow’s son (I Kings 17:21), as of Ehsha also in the parallel in- 
cident (II Kings 4:31-35). Their procedures were patently 
magical. Such, too, must have been the understanding of Jere- 
miah’s famous symbol, where in the presence of dignitaries of the 
city who had been invited to witness the ceremony, he solemnly 
broke a pot and declared that in such manner the Lord would 
break Jerusalem (Jer. 19: 10-11). It is difficult to conceive of ac- 
tion which for his audience would more clearly declare itself as 
magical: this was no innocent speaker telling of things which he 
beUeved would come to pass. He was working in occult powers 
and, by his own volition tlirough his ritual of smashing, was bringing 
about that smashing of the city, which he foretold. How far Jere- 
miah himself shared this view it is difficult to say. Much can be ad- 
duced on the negative side; but if he was not at least a little inter- 
ested in posing as the wonder-worker, then he was notably inept in 
his choice of symbols. 

And what, then, of the prophetic symbolic acts as a whole? A 
careful examination leads to the conviction that they were not the 
innocent illustrations they are commonly supposed to have been. 
Ezekiel’s drama of the captured city (4:1 — 5:3; 24:1-11) and 
his numerous similar performances, although regarded by the 
populace as merely good entertainment, had, for the prophet, as for 
several of the ancient commentators on his work (e.g., 4:4-6), 
some positive worth in accomplishing the ends he predicted. The 
prevalence of such belief among the populace is attested by the 



plea of the officer who went to bring in Micaiah ben Imlah at the 
request of King Ahab. He told how the court prophets had prom- 
ised a happy outcome of the projected campaign against Ramoth 
Gilead and continued; “Let thy word, I pray, be like the word of 
one of them, and speak thou good” (I Kings 22:13). Now it is 
apparent that he had no thought of Micaiah’s deceiving the king 
with pleasant assurances which could prove only delusive. On the 
contrary, he was clearly requesting that the prophet would speak 
the powerful word which would insure success for the project. 
For him, Micaiah was no mere predictor; as prophet he was in 
control of the mighty forces with which man’s life is surrounded 
and could with a word direct them to chosen ends. In just such a 
role of wonder-worker Isaiah presented himself in his challenge to 
King Ahaz to ask a sign in the heavens above or deep as She’ol 
beneath (Isa. 7:11). The words of the oflFer indicate that even if 
the king should demand a repetition of Joshua’s famous miracle at 
Ajalon (Josh. 10:12-14), Isaiah considered himself possessed of 
the power to perform it! Such, too, is the view of the later writer 
who relates Ae prophet’s dealing with the sick Hezekiah; the 
shadow of the sun dial went back (Isa. 38 : 8) . In all such cases the 
intimate relation between the prophet and the Lord is apparent in 
the story, and undoubtedly this was the orthodoxy of thought as 
it developed. These wonders were the working of the Lord through 
his representative. Yet this will not explain all the incidents. The 
stories of prophets of the ninth century and earlier reveal a basic 
concept of their office only by later thought reduced to that of 
spokesmanship for the Lord. In the phraseology of this time the 
prophet was a “man of God” ; and the Hebrew idiom is much rich- 
er than this English equivalent. It is harmonious with the signifi- 
cance of these stories that the prophet could in his own right per- 
form wonders; he controlled superhuman forces. 

The close relationship of this thinking with the pervasive faith in 
the power of the blessing and the curse is immediately evident. 
Once again these powerful formulas were commonly pronounced 
in the name of the Lord, yet their more remote sanction speaks 
through many passages. Doubtless it would be of little cogency to 
point out that in some cases there is no invocation of divine action; 
this could well have been implied. But equally, if one is to argue 


along this line, it is possible that such invocation, when employed, 
is secondary and represents only a later usage. However, blessings 
such as those of the patriarchs, which it is apparent “fulfilled” 
themselves in the course of Israel’s history, leave the strong im- 
pression upon the reader that here was magic pure and simple. The 
.old dignitary was pronouncing formulas which in and of them- 
selves would work out, even across cenmries, the destiny of the na- 
tion or of its separate tribes . Now, if this be correct, it is a matter 
of high importance to our quest, for, in addition to demonstration 
of the might and prevalence of magic in the being of the world, it 
shows that it was also to some undetermined extent the ruler of 
human destiny. This is almost equivalent to a concept of fate, save 
only that it may have been less inexorable in its control of man’s 

Intimately related to the blessing and curse in both genius and 
sanction was the oath of attestation. It too possessed potentialities 
of results in far distant times. From thewealth of illustration we cite 
only the dire result of the breach by King Saul of Joshua’s oath to 
the Gibeonites (II Samuel, chap. 21), and the nation’s faith that its 
possession of the land was in fulfilment of the oath sworn to the 
patriarchs centuries before. But this oath was sworn by the Lord! 
Here is an astonishing simation. Oaths and agreements between 
men were commonly attested in the name of the Lord — or such 
became the usage; he was invoked to watch over the spoken word 
and insure its faithful performance. On the surface, this appears to 
be a recognition of Yahweh as himself the source of justice and, at 
the same time, immanent in the pervasive sense of justice. Yet, even 
so, the act was patently not religious. There was in these cases no 
supplication, no securing of divine sanction, no waiting upon the 
will of God. Man spoke and God was obliged to fulfil. It is clear 
that such was magic, however it may have been cloaked with pi- 
ous words. But in cases where the Lord himself swears, there is not 
even a semblance of evasion of the issue. Of course, the devout 
author of the Epistle to the Hebrews reasons that “since he could 
swear by no greater, he swore by himself’; but this is decidedly 
thin as historic exegesis. More convincing would be the claim that 
the divine oath was but an unthinking carry-over of human prac- 
tice. Yet even this is not convincing; surely the biblical writers 



were not so consistently stupid as this would imply! There is no 
good reason to evade the conclusion that Israel conceived of God’s 
oath as more binding than his promise, for precisely the same rea- 
son as in parallel human agreements: because there was a power 
watching to compel fulfilment! Obviously such power was not 
personal; that would be to create a hierarchy of the gods with 
Yahweh in a menial position. It was force. And Yahweh was sub- 
ject thereto! 

Astonishing as this conclusion may well be, there is related a 
strange incident which, to say the least, suggests some corrobora- 
tion of the belief in a supra-divine world of power. When the al- 
lied armies of Judah and Israel had ravaged the land of Moab, had 
shut up its king in his capital, and were pressing the siege, the king 
in despair “took his eldest son who was to reign in place of him, 
and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall; and great wrath 
came upon Israel, and they departed from him and returned to 
their own land” (II Kings 3:27). It is freely admitted that the 
meaning of the incident is obscure; but a process of elimination 
indicates an interpretation. 

First, the account cannot mean that “there was great wrath in 
Israel” so that in disgust with the proceeding they went home. 
Such meaning would have demanded a different Hebrew preposi- 
tion. Besides, it is inconceivable why they should go home as a 
result of “great wrath”; this would rather have roused them to 
vengeance. Then, this wrath that came upon Israel and compelled 
them to go home could not have emanated from the Moabite god, 
for he was broken and overwhelmed: he had been doing his best, 
apparently, in defense of his people, yet the Hebrew warriors con- 
tinued victorious. Besides, these were operating in the name of 
Yahweh; he could well be depended upon to deal effectively with 
any bad temper on the part of defeated Chemosh. And it is out of 
consideration that it was Yahweh’ s wrath that sent his people 
home. Why should he have been stirred against his own armies by 
a pagan act of a pagan king? There is no apparent escape from the 
view that the “wrath” emanated from some source other than the 
gods concerned. Further, this source was so mighty that the dev- 
otees of Yahweh, operating under notable marks of his approval 
(vss. 9-20), abandoned their success at the moment when final vie- 


tory was within reach, and went home. The sacrifice of the heir- 
apparent was a mighty magical rite, against which even Yahweh 
was impotent. 

But, indeed, all this is less heretical from accepted “critical” 
views than may perhaps appear. For the concept of what we have 
come to call the taboo is just the thing we have been describing. 
There, too, a tendency existed to draw its operation into the realm 
of Yahweh’s authority. The herem upon Jericho was pronounced 
in his name and was guarded by him (Josh. 6:17, 7:11-12). The 
temerity of Uzzah was punished by Yahweh himself (II Sam. 
6 : 6-7) . The sin of Nadab and Abihu brought consuming fire from 
him (Lev. 10 : 1-2) . Yet it is but the orthodoxy of scholarly opinion 
that the realm of the holy was one of impersonal force that oper- 
ated automatically and independent of divine volition. And the 
carry-over of such ideas into the priestly legislation, the natural 
custodian of concepts of and dealings with the occult, is well illus- 
trated by such a ritual as that of the heifer whose neck was broken 
in an untilled valley where ran a perennial stream, every detail of 
which declares its magical character (Deut. 21:1-9). But, as is 
well known, magic persisted to find expressions in the Psalter like- 

To recapitulate: there are various lines of evidence that Israel 
believed in the existence of a power supreme above gods and men, 
which could be employed iii some undetermined measure by both, 
through rituals and formulas of the sort that we call magical. 
While not primarily ethical, it possessed qualities that are of some 
such imphcation. Its dominant feature was constancy. Over 
against the uncertainties of capricious deities, it was always the 
same. Those who knew how to employ it could always depend 
upon its effectiveness. One aspect of tliis approximates moral 
quality: it was guardian of the solemn agreement; this suggests 
the attribute of truth, but in reality it was probably no more than 
a manifestation of the constancy already mentioned. 

Such as it may have been, then, here was Israel’s simplest con- 
cept of namral law. It was a force operative upon gods and men 
which could enjoin truth and faithfulness to covenant. It did not 
compel, however; and, presumably, divine freedom was not im- 



paired. One might freely ignore this world of force and shape his 
conduct indifferent to it. But, like a moral order in the universe, or 
like law in human society, it imposed inevitably the consequences 
of defiance, and through their unpleasantness induced conformity. 
Its remoteness from the orthodox faith and its intimate relation to 
earlier forms of belief declare themselves. Still it is to be noted that 
the divine oath, for example, was emphasized by the relatively late 
and highly developed Book of Deuteronomy. Further, manifesta- 
tions of these beliefs are found in the prophets and in the ritual 
literature through various periods down to the close of the Old 
Testament. Thus it is clear that a certain dualism ran right through 
Israel’s concept of the world. Side by side with a dominant and 
growing faith in the universal rule of Yahweh, there existed this 
belief in a realm of magic that lay outside his power. But, indeed, 
this is not remarkable, since precisely this situation persists to the 
present. Large numbers of more or less devout people, and even 
certain branches of the church, cling to beliefs and practices which 
are essentially magical and hence deny the supremacy of God. 
So while we recognize a contradiction in Israel’s thinking, here we 
can only trace the expression of the concept of a moral order in 
the world without trying to resolve the problem of how completely 
it commanded the best Hebrew thought. But certainly this growing 
sense of moral government was intimately a part of the faith in the 
universality of Yahweh’ s rule as a God of righteousness. 

What Israel’s original concept of government may have been, 
'it is difficult to say. The earliest rule by the elders of the com- 
munity and the essentially democratic freedom inherited from no- 
mad society would seem to imply a respect for inherited custom 
and some more or less crude sense of justice. Certainly the tradi- 
tions that are presented in the Old Testament as the early history 
of the nation reveal a sense of law beyond and supreme above 
mere individual whim. But the validity of such representation is 
precisely our problem. It carries some plausibility. But, on the 
other hand, the older strata in the Book of Judges, which are 
among our earliest genuinely historic sources for Hebrew society, 
provide disturbing considerations. A later writer generalizes 
about the period that “there was no king in Israel; every man did 


that which was right in his own eyes” Gudg. 21:25; cf. 18 :1, 
19 :1), an explanation which, in its context, means nothing but 
social anarchy. And certainly the conduct of the Danites at Laish, 
their treatment of Micah, and the whole incident of the Levite’s 
concubine and its sequel Qudges, chaps. 18-21) speak eloquently 
of a complete lack of moral restraint. The standard of conduct was 
desire, and the means to attain one’s ends was physical, then po- 
litical, power. The life of the strong was the happy life, since it 
was one of realized desire. The folk tale of Samson, whatever else 
it may originally have been intended to teach, certainly expresses 
an ideal of the time; he was such a one as the writer wished he 
might have been; able to bulFet and toss about his foes, to make 
sport of their retribution and plots, to take what he would, and 
consort with harlots at his desire. Such was a real life for a man! 
And there clearly we have the “natural law” of the time of the 
Judges: it was the law of the jungle. 

We may not suppose that these heroes themselves critically 
evaluated and, with ethical self-consciousness, chose such courses. 
But Israel’s thought on the problem certainly dates far back into 
an early period, for even in these stories, notably those of Samson 
and of Abimelech, judgment is passed upon their principals’ con- 
duct. But it was in a later age that thinkers set this sort of “natural 
law” over against principles of equity and voiced their condemna- 
tion. Yet for the time of the Judges, we may with confidence assert 
the prevalent thought was that might constituted the one so- 
cially valid norm, qualified only by the restraining magical pow- 
ers of the oath (Judg. 21 : 1-7) and certain estabhshed usages, such 
as blood revenge, and also possibly some tribal and family custom. 
We may still refuse to accept this view in its completeness; doubt- 
less our understanding of the beginnings of Israel’s religion com- 
pels the postulation of better ideals even through this rough period. 
But the evidence is such that we must then conclude that they were 
an esoteric concept practically impotent for society as a whole. 

Nor can we trace the causes and the course of evolution of a 
public sense of law but only point out a few relevant facts. Israel in- 
herited the law of the Canaanites, and her life among their relative- 
ly cultured communities must have exerted a moderating influence 
upon primitive violence. The kingship, too, in spite of the obloquy 



it receives from certain biblical writers, clearly entailed a national 
law that all must recognize. Such is the implication of the comment 
on the period of the Judges just now quoted; such, too, is the im- 
pression we derive from glimpses of David’s judicial administra- 
tion. It is significant, also, that in this period we find voiced a 
strong sense of the restraining power of social practice and norms: 
“It is not so done in Israel” (II Sam. 13:12). 

Yet it must be recognized that the supremacy of positive law 
was deeply imbedded in Israel’s concept of the monarchy. Since the 
kingship was historically a projection of the rule of the Judges, it 
was inevitable that an ideal of the finality of power should carry 
over into the conduct of the kings. Such is the summary of royal 
prerogatives attributed to Samuel when the people proposed a 
monarchy; he warned, “the king .... will take your sons and 
appoint them to himself for his chariots and to be his horsemen, 

and they shall run before his chariots He will take your 

daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take 
your fields and your vineyards and your olive yards, the best of 
them, and give them to his servants” (I Sam. 8 : 1 1-12) . The pas- 
sage, it is recognized, is late, but its evidence for the character of 
the Hebrew monarchy is not less reliable, for this is how we see it 
actually working itself out. The oriental ideal of the absolute 
monarch who “could do no wrong” invaded Israel’s court in the 
days of David, if, indeed, it was not already manifest under Saul; 
it became supreme through Solomon’s reign; it was the impelhng 
principle in Rehoboam’s folly at Shechem (I Kings 12:14). And 
though it suffered a solemn check in the revolt of the northern 
tribes, yet even these devotees of freedom soon found themselves 
under a ruling class even more irresponsible than that in Jeru- 
salem. We need here cite only the Naboth incident (I Kings, chap. 
21) and recall the social oppression against which the prophets of 
the eighth century spoke to realize that Israel, north and south 
alike, gave itself officially to the theory that power is irrespon- 
sible, since it is the ultimate source of law. The political aspect of 
this and the struggle for responsible government we must postpone 
for a later section; our interest now is to see how completely posi- 
tive law possessed the ruling classes in the two kingdoms. 

Two incidents of the period of the kings are highly significant 


of thought in the time. They are the Bath-sheha and the Naboth 
episodes. In their highhanded indifference to human rights and in 
their bold arrogation of absolute royal authority, they are intimate- 
ly related. But both are highly important also as steps in the rise of 
Israel’s sense of a higher law, for in both a prophet intervened to 
rebuke the monarch in the name of the Lord. More simply, he 
denied the king’s claim of final authority and announced instead 
the supremacy of the will of the Lord, a law that bound the reign- 
ing monarch not less than his humblest subject. 

This is the background of the work of Amos, whose significance 
for this line of Israel’s thought has already been suggested. We saw 
that his enlarged concept of the nature and authority of God evi- 
dently was rooted in a feeling of common human rights, pervasive 
beyond the political and religious boundaries of the time. This 
principle was for him embodied in the person of the God of Israel. 
But in at least one notable passage he implies the existence of such 
a force for good existing in and of itself. He says: “Do horses run 
on the rock, or does one plow the sea, that you should turn justice 
into gall and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood; you who 
rejoice in a thing of naught and say, ‘Have we not taken to us horns 
by our own strength?’” (6:12-13.) A certain propriety of con- 
duct, he says, is freely recognized in common affairs, but in reli- 
gious matters his contemporaries outrage the common sense of 
mankind with their moral and religious aberrations. Ordinary hu- 
man good sense, he implies, ought to lead one to just conduct and 
right religious attitudes. 

Israel’s thought was in general so highly personalized, so fully 
drawn into the belief in a universal Person who pervaded all and 
was the moving force in all, that it is important, before we turn to 
examine the implications of this, to recognize fully the existence 
of a more humanistic concept of natural law, such as Amos enter- 
tained along with his deep faith in divine activity. Even more 
notable in this regard was the wrestle with the problem of theod- 
icy, which, it is apparent, implies a standard independent of God 
and in some way beyond him— a standard to which his conduct is 
amenable just as that of man. It is scarcely necessary to men- 
tion that the Old Testament, particularly in its later expressions, 
was much concerned with this problem of the justice of God’s rule 



of the world. Obviously it was paramount in the strange theology 
of Ecclesiastes. His God was judged by human standards of right 
and was found wanting. He had guarded his privileges in a most 
selfish way; further, his major concern seemed to be his own en- 
joyment, while man, striving and seeking, was circumvented at 
every turn by this cosmic might, and granted only minor conces- 
sions in order to keep him occupied. Man’s chief concern in rela- 
tions with him should be to guard his steps and be cautious of his 
words, for rash words may get one into untold trouble. Where 
Ecclesiastes found basis for his theory of ethics in such a philoso- 
phy is not stated, although it becomes apparent by careful study. 
True to the tradition of the wisdom movement, his thought was 
thoroughly humanistic, rooted in certain convictions as to the na- 
ture of the good life and the desirability of specific courses of con- 
duct. He sought to know whether there was any good thing for 
man; and his conclusion was that the good thing was what would 
provide abiding satisfaction. So he gave himself to all sorts of con- 
duct without let or hindrance from traditional scruples. Yet it is 
notable that through this experience, dominated as it seems to have 
been by a self-interest as crass as that which he ascribed to his 
God, he paid unconscious tribute to common social ideals of jus- 
tice and humanity. He was concerned about the rampant injustice 
of his time, although he put the matter off with the reflection that 
nothing could be done, for the total of human misery was a con- 
stant quantity. He remarked on the selfish hierarchies of officials, 
each preying on the one below, and, finally, all on the poor peas- 
ant. He spoke with apparent censure of the ways of absolute mon- 
archs, before whom subjects could only cringe and watch astutely 
for opporuxnity to serve themselves at their expense. By contrast 
he praised the poor but wise youtli, fated to continue to the end in 
his lowly state, yet better than the powerful monarch whose self- 
serving would leave at his death not a single person to mourn his 
going. The wise man who delivered his city by his wisdom when 
military might had failed: there was something that Ecclesiastes 
could and did respect. He was a man of deep social feeling, which 
indeed was a fruitful source of his pessimism by reason of his de- 
spair of improving matters. Indeed, at this point he confronts the 
central problem of a theory of natural law, the existence of con- 

3o8 the intellectual ADVENTURE OF ANCIENT MAN 

flicting standards of conduct. These selfish rulers acted in accord 
with universal human impulses. But Ecclesiastes had no thought of 
commending them on this ground and condoning a return to con- 
ditions of the days of the Judges. For over against such norms of 
life there existed also an instinct for better things, a sense of justice 
rooted not less deeply in human nature. It would seem, then, that 
these concepts lie close to the basis of Ecclesiastes’ whole system 
of thought. His norm was the common human feeling for justice, 
though only vaguely defined. By it God himself must submit to 

But the treatment of this theme in the Book of Job is notable for 
its projection of the antithesis of might and right into the conduct 
of God himself. In varying expression this is found throughout the 
book. The speeches of Yahweh spend their eloquence in empha- 
sis upon the irresponsible might of God. His power is such and the 
complexity of his working so far beyond human understanding 
that mere man may not question his ways. The inquiring spirit can 
in the end only confess his temerity: 

.... I have uttered that which I understood not, 
things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. . . . . 

Wherefore I abhor myself, 
and repent in dust and ashes [Job 42 : 3, 6] . 

The Elihu speeches are not far from the same position: God “giv- 
eth not account of any of his matters” (33:13). Still, these writers 
are not unconscious of the problem; they undertake to demonstrate 
that God will not do wickedness (34:10 ff.) and are shocked that 
Job, presumably, claims his righteousness to be greater than God’s 
(35:2). In this regard, the Elihu speeches reveal the familiarity 
with the Dialogue for which they are well known. For Job’s moral 
independence outraged the traditional piety of the friends. He re- 
fused to bow in contrition before transcendence; on the contrary, 
he asked insistently: “Why should God do this?” For him it 
would not suffice that absolute might sat enthroned at the center of 
the universe; such power must itself answer to common standards 
of equity, not less than the lowliest man. On this basis Job sought 
a meeting with his great adversary where he might argue the jus- 
tice of the issue: 



Behold now I have set my cause in order; 

I know that I am righteous [Job 13 : 18]. 

Even more to the point is his querulous taunt of cosmic might, 
which he implied should be at least as just as man: 

Is It good to thee that thou shouldst oppress, 
that thou shouldst despise the work of thy hands? 

Hast thou eyes of flesh, 
or seest thou as man seest? 

Are thy days as the days of man, 
or thy years as man’s days, ■ 
that thou inquirest after mine iniquity 
and searchest after my sin 
although thou knowest that I am not wicked? 

But there is none that can deliver out of thy 
hand [Job 10:3-7], 

Such was Job’s constant complaint: he had done no wrong, yet 
affliction came upon him. Little wonder that his bold spirit went the 
full length in condemnation of divine irresponsibility before at 
length he recoiled from his own excesses, realizing that his life was 
not all recorded in terms of misery: 

Thou hast granted me life and lovingkindness; 

and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit [Job 10:12]. 

Yet at the depth of his black mood he exceeds even Ecclesiastes in 
'denunciation of an unethical God: . 

As for strength: he is mighty; 

as for justice: who can cal! him to account? 

I am upright; I do not regard myself; 

^ I despise my own life. ■ 

It is all one! Therefore I say 
upright and wicked alike he consumes [Job 9 :19,21-22]. 

But the great difference between Job and Ecclesiastes was that the 
former clung to his faith and worked through to a reasoned posi- 
tion where he could hold that the principles of right which he 
honored as a man rule Gorrespondingly in the conduct of God, 

Yet it will be apparent that, however attractive such views may 
have proved for the philosophic temper of the wise men, the great 
mass of Israel’s thought, if we may judge by the prominence given 


it in the literature, went on the conviction that the source of ethics 
was in the nature and will of God. And the nexus of the two seem- 
ingly contradictory views is revealed by the great thinker to whom 
we have already frequently turned— the author of chapter 8 of the 
Book of Proverbs. In his concept of wisdom as the vitalizing power 
in man’s restless urge toward better things, which yet was with 
God before creation and by him was implanted in the nature of 
things, there is, we have noted, the clear implication that in such 
wisdom man gains his truest insight into the essential namre of 
God. The Hebrew philosopher would have agreed heartily with 
Socrates in an answer to the latter’s famous question. Right was 
not right because God willed it; he willed it because it was right. 
For his nature was righteousness. 

It is, then, along the line of the growing concept of the univer- 
sality of the rule of Yahweh and the enlarging of ethical thinking 
within Israel’s religion that we are to trace the advance of a sense 
of universal standards of right. And the triumph of this concept, 
apparent in the prophets’ condemnation of injustice within Israel, 
is nowhere better manifested than in the revulsion they felt toward 
the irresponsibility of the aggressive empires. Isaiah held up to 
scorn the boast of the Assyrian: 

By the strength of my hands I have done it, 
and by my wisdom, for I have understanding. 

And I have removed the bounds of peoples 
and their treasures I have robbed; 
and as a mighty one I have brought down those en- 

My hand has found, like a nest, 
the wealth of the peoples; 

and as one gathers eggs hidden away 
ail the earth have I gathered. 


Does an ax boast against the hewer, 
or a saw make itself greater than its user? 
Therefore will the Lord send 
upon his fat ones leanness [Isa, 10:13-16]. 

Not less effective is the brief note of Habakkuk in his account of 
die violent aggression of the Chaldean foe, the culmination of 
whose reprehensibility was that 


from himself proceed his standards of right and dignity .... 
that reprobate, whose own might is his god! [Hab. 1:7, 11.] 

It is important to realize that in these concepts Israel’s thought 
of natural law attained its characteristic form. The notion of a 
universal directive force, perhaps impersonal, but in any case in- 
' dependent of the power of the Lord, was but incidental. Emphasis 

upon it has been necessary in order to insure it adequate attention 
as a genuine phase of the total of Hebrew thought and to show the 
measure of its ultimate attainment; for the conviction that Israel 
regarded the world and all within it as dependent upon the will and 
activity of God has become axiomatic in our minds to the exclu- 
sion of other possibilities. Nor is this a serious error, for the out- 
standing aspect of Israel’s thinking about the world was its per- 
I sonalism; and not least in their thought of a universal law valid and 

operative in the lives of men did the Hebrew thinkers posmlate the 
personal reality and activity of their God. The supremacy of this 
faith among the prophets is obvious. But likewise it was the view 
. of the wise men. The “wisdom of God,” of which they made so 

much, was not a detached, impersonal entity; it had emanated from 
God; more simply, it was God himself at work among men. 

This, indeed, is the distinctive contribution of Israel’s thinkers 
to the discussion of natural law. For them it was not an irrespon- 
sible force that in some blind way, however benignly, influenced hu- 
man impulses. It was God in his holiness and righeousness reveal- 
ing to sinful man his will and their high destiny and only happiness 
in obedience thereto. From this there resulted all that is character- 
istic of Hebrew ethics : its white heat of urgency, but also its tran- 
scendentalism that set righteousness far beyond human attainment 
^ yet held it as a compelling ideal toward which one must strive and 

^ aspire. The moral passion of the prophets has become axiomatic; 

■ they were concerned with human well-being, it is true, but no such 

I urgency of appeal could have arisen from human considerations. 

I The compelling force that took possession of them “with strength 

I of hand” was the holiness of a personal God who was very near 

i and who sat in judgment upon the unrighteousness of man. And 
this for Israel was natural law! It was something more than a 
“supreme unifying, controlling power manifesting itself in the 

i universe at large.” It was God himself in his supremacy and holi- 

ness saying, “This is the way; walk ye therein.” 


The role of this concept in shaping positive legislation as well 
as in criticism of existing laws will be immediately apparent. 
Nonetheless, it is a noteworthy fact that, until comparatively late 
times, ethical speculation and sanctions had no recourse to codified 
law. The ultimate source of right and justice reposed in unwritten 
codes: more plainly, in the instincts and impulses that stir in the 
hearts of men. Doubtless the monarchs and other practical folk 
were ready in citation of the codified legislation of the land, but, 
for those who gave thought to the matter, the final rule of the hearts 
of men lay far deeper in a universal norm. The function of this in 
the legal history of Israel is evident in the work of the prophets. 
It stirred, too, as an uneasy conscience in the several reforms of the 
period of the monarchy, even if these were largely cultic. Also, the 
Book of Deuteronomy is, per se, eloquent testimony to the reality 
of the movement, for, though it purports to be a “second law,” it 
was in reality a revision of the ancient social legislation that in con- 
siderable part Israel had taken over from the Canaanites. So we 
may safely conclude that an independent attitude of criticism to- 
ward the law of the land was widespread among thoughtful men. 
But, excellent as this is for our present purpose, a further issue 
forces itself upon the attention. Natural law can exist at all only if 
it is universal. The crux of the problem is how far Israel’s thinkers 
applied their accepted standards to the laws of foreign nations, or 
believed that among those peoples there was a stirring such as man- 
ifested itself in Israel’s own thought. 

Investigation of the question is beset with the obvious difficulty 
that Israel’s writers were primarily concerned with Israelite stand- 
ards and conduct; to the life and thought of foreigners they gave 
but minor attention. But at least the first eleven chapters of Gene- 
sis promise material for our purpose. The heroes and other char- 
acters of this narrative may in some measure have been regarded 
as remote ancestors, but certainly they were not Israelites; and 
from the stories certain relevant facts stand out. The authors have 
not the least doubt that God was known among these non-Hebraic 
peoples, through revelation of a sort similar to or identical with 
that later given to Israel. His will was their ultimate law, uphold- 
ing those standards later established in Hebrew society. Cain 
should not have killed Abel; the rampant “violence” of the time of 



the flood cried out to high heaven for retribution; the life and con- 
duct of Noah was a standing rebuke to his contemporaries; the 
builders of the Tower of Babel were guilty of arrogance; etc. Fur- 
ther, the distribution of the peoples of the earth is represented as 
being in accord with divine purposes; even if not ethically deter- 
mined, at least it was an expression of that impulse which the 
writers believed to be the ultimate authority in human life. 

Comparable are the results that may be deduced from accounts 
of Israel’s relations with foreign powers. The Egyptians should 
not have oppressed the Hebrews; the hard labor of the slaves raised 
a cry to heaven which in turn brought divine retribution in the 
plagues and the incidents of the Exodus. The lawless oppressions 
of the Assyrians and Chaldeans were denounced; these peoples 
outraged all human standards— -and made a virtue of it. And for the 
smaller nations near Palestine, the threats contained in the first 
and second chapters of the Book of Amos took their rise in a reac- 
tion against unhuman conduct; these peoples had practiced bar- 
barities against helpless neighbors, they had forgotten “the broth- 
erly covenant,” they had enslaved whole peoples, they had been 
implacable in their hatreds. On the other hand, the implications of 
the Servant Songs, and of passages that picture a great movement of 
Gentile peoples to Jerusalem for worship, as well as the claim in 
the Book of Malachi that from the rising of the sun to its going- 
down the Lord’s name was great among the Gentiles, all alike in- 
dicate recognition of a common human bond among all peoples 
that rendered foreigners amenable to the same high appeals and 
impulses as native Hebrews. It will be recognized that we lack for- 
mal discussion by Israel’s thinkers of the universality of basic 
ethical standards; to that extent we are doubtless justified in con- 
cluding that the problem was not fully realized. But at least it is 
clear that they assumed, even if uncritically, the world- wide rule of 
those standards of right which they themselves honored. The words 
of Paul again may be quoted as expressive of his people’s tradition- 
al thinking; “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against 
all unrighteousness of men . . . . because that which is known of 
God is manifest in them, for God manifested it unto them.” 

Yet the problem of natural law looks in still another direction, 
for within Palestine, through the centuries of Israel’s occupation. 


there were notably two groups that provide test cases of Hebrew 
consistency; they were the foreign immigrants and the slaves. The 
underprivileged condition of both is apparent to every casual reader 
of the Old Testament. Of the former, however, it can be affirmed 
that progressive thought refused to leave them to the whims of 
popular bigotries and suspicions. The concern of the authors of 
Deuteronomy for the “sojourner” is a notable feature of the book. 
The prophets likewise urged consideration and fellow-feeling to- 
ward this noncitizen populace. But it was the Priestly document 
that took the final step of legislating equal rights and equal respon- 
sibihties for the gerim: “You shall have one law for the home-bom 
and for the stranger who sojourns among you” (Exod. 1 2 : 49) . The 
late date commonly ascribed to this legislation and its high author- 
ity in post-Exilic Judaism raise the prescription to a high signifi- 

The problem of the slave is not so easily handled ; for the think- 
ing of today, the widespread and legalized practice of slavery con- 
stitutes a very black stain on the social attainments of ancient 
Israel. And, to make the matter worse, no protest was raised 
against the institution per se, demanding the equal freedom of 
all men. Jeremiah, for example, was indignant because recently 
liberated slaves were illegally repossessed, but he says not a word 
to the effect that their ever having lost their freedom was a mark 
of the iniquity of his contemporaries (Jer . 34:8-22). Yet the facts 
are not so damning as aU this may suggest. Slavery in the primitive 
days of Israel’s history had humane features. The foreign slave, 
who was generally a captive in war, owed his life to the institu- 
tion; apart from it he would almost certainly have been slaughtered 
at the time of his people’s defeat. The enslavement of Hebrews 
had an economic basis; one accepted slavery when he could no 
longer win a livelihood. The condition insured at least subsistence, 
and to this extent it may be considered, like the instimtion of 
blood revenge, a progressive social measure for its time. 

The ethics of Old Testament slavery thus depended in large 
measure upon the character of the slaveowner; and there is abun- 
dant evidence to show that, in general, the slave enjoyed a status 
far above what the term suggests to us. Social distinctions are 
moderated in the simple, immediate relations of rural life. Master 



and slave, associated together as they were in tasks and adventnres 
in the field, developed some sense of comradeship. A revealing in- 
cident, frequently cited in the study of Hebrew slavery, is that of 
Saul’s 'consultation with his slave when the two had been for sev- 
eral days searching for lost asses; and it was the slave, not Saul, 
who had money in his possession to pay a fee to the “man of 
God.” On the other hand, there were, as always, brutal masters 
who on occasion beat their slaves even to the point of death. 

But the important matter is that Israel’s conscience did not 
lie supine under these conditions. Legislation was enacted to pro- 
tect the slave, and in the great legal revision represented by our 
Book of Deuteronomy these provisions received notable strength- 
ening. But even more indicative of a Hebrew conscience toward 
this matter is the ground ascribed for such consideration: “You 
shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the 
Lord your God brought you out.” “Keep the sabbath day . . . . 
that your male slave and your female slave may rest as well as 
you.” It is to be observed that provision is not specifically for 
fellow-Hebrews but for any slave. 

And its raison d’etre expresses clearly a sense of common human 
unity : briefly, a respect for fellow-humans as persons. Beyond this, 
Hebrew thought on slavery did not go. But it is to be recognized 
that in this attainment there lay the germ of all future advance. 
While admitting freely Israel’s failure to repudiate slavery, there 
are then three points to be kept in mind: Hebrew slavery was rela- 
tively humane; it was regulated and guarded with increasingly 
humanitarian legislation; and, third, the slave was recognized as 
possessing certain inalienable rights on the grounds of his being 
human. The situation was such that we need not hesitate to include 
it as an aspect of Israel’s thought of namral law. 

In course of time that body of literature which we know as the 
Pentateuch assumed its final shape, and apparently by the fourth 
century b.c. was “canonized,” that is, it was accepted as of divine 
origin and authority. Through the various circumstances that de- 
termined its composition there were included certain social codes 
and much ritual direction, both of which had enjoyed a long history 
and operation. But now they were endowed with a halo of sanctity. 
For devout thought, all alike became ipsissima verba of the will and 


revelation of God and, as such, of ultimate authority over human 
conduct. In this fact, then, we are to see the confluence of the two 
streams of Israel’s law and the termination of the antithesis that 
marks this line of thinking. Living under foreign rule as they did, 
subject also to the whims of fallible leaders of their own, the Jews 
never escaped, in actuality, the problem of positive law; but, for 
orthodox thought, in the Pentateuch natural law had absorbed and 
sublimated positive law. 

Still, the concept of the unwritten law and its authority contin- 
ued. It found notable expression in the oral tradition that eventually 
was codified in the Mishnah. Criticism may smile indulgently at 
the palpable deception in the claim that this was given to Moses 
at Sinai along with the Torah, but if we would read the meaning of 
figurative language, it is apparent that this was but an expression 
of the sense of a pervasive natural law: the religious impulse and 
revelation with which the name of Moses was associated was too 
great to embody itself in written form — not even the Torah was 
adequate; but it reposed ultimately in the divine impress upon the 
heart of man. Even in the Old Testament itself, and apparently 
from a period when the Torah had attained sanctity in Jewish 
thought, the supremacy of the unwritten law is notably expressed. 
There are several passages which voice the hope for the future 
that Israel should then be cleansed of its propensity to sin and 
transformed into a righteous nation. The following is especially 
deserving of attention: 

Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with 
the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant 
that I made with their fathers. . ... but this is the covenant that I will make with 
the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will put my law in their in- 
ward parts and in their hearts I will write it; and I will be their God, and they 
shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and his 
brother saying. Know the Lord; for they shall all know me from the least unto 
the greatest of them [Jer. 31:31-34]. 

The law written on the heart, not an external law, should rule 
men’s lives. But it would be a gracious rule: not compulsion, not 
an infringement of man’s freedom but its fulfilment. Men would 
do the right because they most wished so to do. They would 
recognize the beauty of goodness, won by its inherent attractive- 



ness. Here is the culmination of Israel’s thought about natural 
law: a glorious day should dawn when man’s jungle impulses would 
atrophy, when right would triumph deep in human nature, and so- 
ciety would pursue its happy course in a state of “anarchy,” of “no 
law,” because everyone would do the high and noble thing through 
his love for it, in obedience to the unwritten law inscribed on his 

There remains yet one difficult problem of this line of thinking. 
When the Torah was canonized and the law of God thus became 
ostensibly the law of the land, there could be no clash between 
conscience and authority. Yet it is apparent that such a situation 
never became an actuality of Israel’s life. Even in the period when 
Jerusalem was under the high priests, the Jews were nonetheless 
subject to foreign rule; and even if we concede for the sake of 
argument what notably was not true, that all the officials of the 
theocracy were high-minded men, still the people were never re- 
mote from the problem of what to do in face of a bad law. And 
even more was this true of earlier ages. A devout answer is imme- 
diately at hand. In the words of the apostles faced with some such 
dilemma, one “ought to obey God rather than man.” 

Yet the issue is not quite so simple. Paul formulated the crux of 
it in his seemingly antithetic saying that “the powers that be are or- 
dained of God.” Apparently the words of Jesus relative to pay- 
ment of tribute bear a similar interpretation. “Render unto Caesar 
the things of Gaesar.” Both imply recognition that government 
performs an indispensable function. Without ordered society the 
bare essentials of civilized life are not possible. Even a bad govern- 
ment provides some measure of security and settled procedure. 
What then? Are we to weaken the pillars of society by a course of 
flagrant disobedience of laws that we consider wrong? Or shall we 
take the opposite course and outrage conscience by supporting a 
wicked government in the interests of stability? Is there a middle 
course, and what and where are its bounds? 

The revolts instigated by the prophets, notably that of the north- 
ern tribes in the time of Rehoboam and of Jehu a century later, 
were frank acceptance of one horn of the dilemma: direct action 
for the overthrow of an evil ruler is in harmony with the will of 
God. But it is notable that subsequent thought repudiated this pol- 


icy and sought reform within ordered society. The Maccabean 
revolt, commendable as it seems to us, was likewise given scant 
honor by the contemporary author of Daniel; it was only “a little 

This comment may suggest the answer which Hebrew thought 
finally accepted. For it is apparent that, in repudiating the prowess 
of Judas and his outlaws, the writer looks rather for divine deliv- 
erance. And certainly this is in harmony with the entire apocalyp- 
tic movement and with most of the later political thought as it is 
expressed in the Old Testament. The Lord stirred up the spirit of 
Cyrus to deliver his people; he showed mercy by inclining the 
hearts of the kings of Persia to the needs of the Jews in Judea. On 
the other hand, Daniel and his companions in the Babylonian court 
“purposed in their heart that they would not defile themselves”; 
the three who refused to worship the great image were thrown into 
the furnace. Daniel himself continued his daily devotions in the 
face of royal prohibition; and in every case deliverance and ad- 
vancement came to the faithful by supernamral means. 

The conclusion is fairly clear. Jewish thought favored an honest 
acceptance of government, whatever it might be, and loyal con- 
formity to promulgated law, but only within the limits of Jewish 
conscience. Where law and religion clashed, then the Jew was to 
honor his religious duty at whatever cost, encouraged, it may be, 
with the belief that this course would prove in the end wisest even 
from the practical point of view. Yet such conformity to the rule 
of government did not mean indifference to public standards of 
right. But change of government, in that age when it could be 
brought about humanly only through violence, was regarded as 
properly in the hands of God. He set up kings and he removed 
kings in accord with his eternal purposes. One must endure evil 
days sustained by the conviction that it was the will of God. And, 
at the worst, oppression was but a transient affair, for soon the 
kingdom of the saints would be established. 

At this point there emerges one of the notable features of Israel- 
ite literature and thought, its treatment of history. A moment’s 
consideration shows that history is the theme which permeates the 
Old Testament almost throughout: history told from a determined 



point of view and with a set purpose, but, nonetheless, great his- 
tory. Even such ostensibly prophetic works as the apocalypses 
may be regarded as of historic temper, for their concern is with 
the course of mundane affairs. The theme of the Hebrew historian, 
it is true, is Israel’s career, but this is told in a world setting. In a 
limited way it is world history to which the Hebrew writers in- 
troduce us; indeed, the first ten chapters of Genesis attempt noth- 
ing less than an account of the entire human career through its 
early ages, and they culminate in a survey of the peopling of the 
whole known world of the writers’ times. From this point onward 
the story narrows to that of Israel, yet, whether by the demands 
of the narrative or through the writers’ interests, the reader is 
kept conscious of the movement of affairs in the world beyond 
Palestine. Through a long section the immediate background is 
Egyptian history; and the proximity and importance of Egypt echo 
repeatedly through the subsequent story. The little neighbors of 
Israel take their place in the account. Presently Assyria becomes 
the dominating theme, then Babylonia and Persia and the Mace- 
donian kingdoms. A recent popular treatment of the “science of 
history” gives three features of modem historical method. The his- 
torian, it says, undertakes “to ascertain his facts, to explain them, 
and to give them significance by fitting them into a general 
scheme.” This third was richly exemplified by the Hebrew his- 
torians. Their theme is Israel’s history in Israel’s world. And it is 
deserving of remark that in this they were bringing into existence 
a new thing. Only in a remote way as expressed in certain myths 
had civilization to this time wimessed anything of this sort. And 
notwithstanding the repute of Herodotus and the subsequent 
Greek historians, one goes all the way to Nicholaus of Damascus 
to find anything deserving of comparison with this aspect of He- 
brew historiography, and even then the famed “Universal History” 
is too little known for us to assess its advantages, if any. And we 
should remember that Nicholaus was an Oriental! It will bear con- 
sideration whether later interest in world history is not directly 
the heir and consequence of the Old Testament. The importance 
attained by the Old Testament in Western thought through the 
medium of Christianity provides a connection which raises the 
question well out of the region of the absurd. 


The limitations of Hebrew history-writing as judged by present- 
day standards are folly apparent. Notably it is lacking in a sense of 
economic and social forces. Its perspective is badly out of balance 
at times, relating colorful personal incidents at length while dis- 
missing briefly, or even omitting entirely, events of major impor- 
tance. But no one, himself possessing a sense of historic develop- 
ment, will long delay over these failings; rather he will give gener- 
ous praise that, beginning something new in human culture as these 
men did, they achieved such excellence. 

Probably the weakest point in their procedure was the treatment 
of sources, specifically their deficiency of critical appraisal. Some 
of them wrote of their own times, relating events which they 
knew in large part at first hand; others made use of written sources, 
which they have frequently cited by name; elsewhere the account 
relates oral traditions, the nature and source of which we can only 
speculate upon. Excellent as is much of the result — even that based 
on tradition has earned a higher respect than was once conceded it 
—nowhere do we find the writers passing critical judgment on 
their sources and rejecting the improbable or unattested. This may 
be due to their method; as in other expressions of Israel’s -thinking, 
it may be that they prefer to omit all reference to procedure and 
center attention on results. Yet the indiscriminate relating of the 
miraculous and even legendary in the Elijah and Elisha stories, for 
example, along with patently reliable accounts such as the episode 
of Naboth’s vineyard or the Battle of Ramoth Gilead, indicates 
rather a failtire to distinguish. On the other hand, fairness demands 
that we recognize the straightforward naturalism which char- 
acterizes contemporaneous histories such as the memoirs of Nehe- 
miah and the account of David’s reign. Their freedom from 
wonder elements and mythical elements sets them apart from 
much oriental narrative. It is apparent that here the writers limit 
themselves to what they knew to be rigidly true. Such also, it is 
clear, is the method in the greater part of the court history in the 
Books of Kings. In these passages we see Hebrew history-writing 
in its highest attainment. 

And certainly if for a moment one ram from the science to the 
art of the historian, these authors must be accorded a place among 
the best, save only for a deficiency of the sort already mentioned — 



some weakness in scope and balance. All alike manifest that high 
feeling for narrative which is the remarkable quality of the Hebrew 
literary genius. Hebrew historiography is marked by an instinct 
for essentials of the human story, a psychological insight, a sense 
of the dramatic, and a feeling for individuals in the movement of 
history that infuses dry and sometimes drab events with the qual- 
ity of a good story. And all together compound into history as it 
ought to be written! 

But it is the historian’s work as expression of his thinking with 
which we are now primarily concerned. And Hebrew history is 
rich in relevant results. Of Israel’s sense of significance in history 
it may well be remarked that to maintain such an attitude is to sur- 
vey lifexaZ’ specie aetemitatis. Here was no engrossment in the mo- 
ment but full recognition that human life is a great stream of which 
the present is only the realized moment; its long course stretches 
out of the far past into an eternal future. Such a concept sets the in- 
dividual and Ae nation in a perspective which at once humbles and 
exalts. It was no accident diat the supremely religious peoples of 
all time were likewise our first great historians. 

It will seem a case of laboring the obvious to remark that, for 
Israel, history was reality, a comprehensive reality that raised it to 
the highest importance. Yet certain trends in recent thinking ab- 
solve the comment of mere verbosity. Israel knew nothing of a 
suprahistorical plane where the true reality of events was being 
enacted, while all below was sham and make-believe. There was 
a realm of suprahuman reality, they would have affirmed, that 
periodically in notable fashion and perpetually in more normal 
ways was breaking into the stream of human events and shaping 
them. But all this by its occurrence became historical; it was a part 
of man’s career, rather of the story of God and man, for that was 
the Hebrew’s concept of history. And all that happened on this 
earth, whether events which an uncritical piety ascribed to divine 
intervention or at the other extreme the machinations of the wicked 
—all alike were part of the long stream of man’s experience and of 
importance as taking a place in the ultimate shaping and ultimate 
meaning of man’s life and God’s purposes. The naturalism of the 
Hebrew mind is nowhere more manifest than in his realistic atti- 
tude to history. 


Just there was the crux of the matter for Israel’s thought; his- 
tory had meaning. On this ground it contained important lessons 
for current life. The wise men deduced their teachings from it; and 
religious thinkers of one school or another recounted the nation’s 
past for the value it could contribute toward shaping the future. 
Some of the defects of the historian’s method are traceable to the 
fact that his interest was not so much in recording events as in ex- 
plaining them. And such a temper can mean only one thing: He- 
brew history was primarily a philosophy of history. 

Such evaluation of our Book of Judges is very familiar. The so- 
called “Deuteronomic framework,” in which the successive stories 
of ancient heroes is set, reiterates that Israel’s political difficulties 
in those turbulent days were directly due to the nation’s religious 
infidelity. But this is not all, nor even the most significant parr, of 
the Hebrew philosophy of history. It becomes apparent that all— 
the story of primeval man, the experiences of the patriarchs, the 
Egyptian episode, the conquest, and on through age after age to 
the closing years of the Old Testament period, when the great em- 
pires pass in hasty survey in the symbolic imagery of the Book of 
Daniel and events hasten on to their culmination in the kingdom of 
the saints — all is related as possessing a meaning which the authors 
imply they have grasped and on occasion are not unwilling to 

We have been obliged frequently in this study to remark on the 
uniqueness and originality of Israel’s achievement. If the comment 
should grow tedious, we must blame, first of all, the Hebrews 
themselves that they were a people of such vigorous independence. 
For once again the remark is in order. In Israel’s philosophy of 
history there entered human culmre a new idea that was destined 
to have far-reaching results all the way down to our own days. It 
was new in its attainment of a level elevated beyond parallel, al- 
though Professor Jacobsen has pointed out to me that the begin- 
nings of such thinking can be traced in Babylonia. But philosophy 
of history as the Hebrews conceived and developed it had never 
been known in all the centuries of the great civilizations which pre- 
ceded them. And it long remained uniquely Israel’s contribution to 
the course of thought, for Herodotus’ attempt is scarcely more im- 
pressive than that of the Babylonians; nor do his successors in 



Greece or Rome rise to the level of rivalry. But through Euse- 
bius this heritage of the Old Testament came at length to the 
Western world and, in the course of time, to its notable develop- 
ment in the interest and thought of our own times. 

The objectives of the Hebrew philosophers of history were to 
discover principles which determine the course of events so that 
these might serve as guides for their contemporary world. The sim- 
ilarity of this to the studies of the wise men shows the error of 
separating the Hebrew intellecmal world into rigid compartments. 
Israel’s thought life was one and indivisible. 

These principles of history were of two sorts. On one side were 
the will and purpose of God; over against him was man with his 
purposes and his independence. The two commonly clashed, and 
never were they in complete harmony. History, then, was to be 
explained in the ebb and flow of these forces. So far, so good. But, 
on the human side of this rivalry, the statement seems to say noth- 
ing at all, for everyone recognizes that man’s striving for the 
things he wants, subject only to some weight of circumstance, has 
molded the course of events. But the Hebrew scholars carried the 
analysis further. Man’s purposes were a chaos of ambition, re- 
venge, lust of power, economic needs and the demands of security, 
along with much magnanimity, ethical idealism, consideration for 
the weak and underprivileged, and a whole range of desire and con- 
duct gathered loosely under the term “righteousness.” Out of this 
medley of purpose came the uncertain results of individual, na- 
tional, and social achievement and the long story of civilization in 
its totality. But God’s purposes were one. Also, God was righteous 
and God was supreme. Here is the great conviction of Israel’s 
thinkers. History is not the meaningless clash of human passion 
that it may sometimes seem or yet the plaything of blind force; 
God is ruler of all, and he is shaping events to his far-off purpose. 
Through the strange interplay of human freedom and divine sover- 
eignty which the Hebrew thinkers affirmed, he was molding hu- 
man life to his own will. History is a tale of progress! The He- 
brew philosophers would have made no delay in answering the 
moot question of today, “Is progress a reality of human history.?” 
For them the answer was clear and obvious. The course was devi- 
ous; the stream frequently turned back upon its general course; 


there were eddies and cross-currents, backwaters and pools; none- 
theless, the stream flowed onward toward its determined end. Hu- 
man perversity might delay the divine plan; it could not defeat it. 
But ever since the world was, God has been working his supreme 
purpose; and it will surely come. Though it tarry, one must wait 
for it; for the vision is for the appointed time — and the just shall 
live by his faith. 

The eternal purpose was realizing itself through men chosen of 
God: more strictly men who, like Isaiah, heard the divine chal- 
lenge, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us.^” and then re- 
sponded, “Here am I; send me.” Through them there came into 
existence the chosen nation; but even within its history the same 
process went on of divine selection and, in case of unworthiness, 
of rejection. The supremacy of God was such that he could use 
even the devices of the wicked to further his ends. Assyria in all 
its imperial pomp served but as the tool in divine hands. And the 
other arrogant powers, of whatever name, one after another while 
boasting their might, were but tolerated to give way at length be- 
fore the rule of God. History was moving on to a glorious cul- 

It is one of the astonishing features of Hebrew thought that 
a nation who suflFered as they did, who on several occasions al- 
most perished under brutal conquerors and oppressors, yet were 
supremely an optimistic people. They never lost hope. Jeremiah, 
buying a field and carefully laying away the deed at the height of 
the Babylonian invasion of Judah, is a true symbol of his people. 
For in dreary days they shaped their glowing dreams. They held 
stubbornly to the conviction that beyond the dme of trying there 
lay an age when Jerusalem should become the city of righteousness, 
the faithful town, and Zion should be redeemed with justice. 
Though the present was in the grip of circumstance as stem as 
though raled by a great beast, yet if one would but look with under- 
standing, he could see in anticipation the beast slain and its body 
destroyed and given to be burned; and then sovereignty and do- 
minion and the greamess of the kingdom under the whole heaven 
would be given to the people of the saints of the Most High — “his 
kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all dominions shall serve 
and obey him.” 



It may not be denied that many of these dreams of the future are 
cast in a nationalistic frame. The kingdom of the saints was to be 
a kingdom of Jewish saints. And the glorious culmination of all 
history, for too many a dreamer of the ancient ghettoes, was to con- 
sist in Jewish rule of the world, conceived, it must be admitted, in 
typically imperialistic terms: 

Thy gates, also, shall be open continually; 

they shall not be shut day or night, 
that men may bring unto thee the wealth of the nations ... . 
for that nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall 

yea those nations shall be utterly wasted [Isa. 60:11-12]. 

Yet we must bear in mind two facts: the Old Testament by virtue 
of the diversity of its authorship — in less agreeable terms, the 
spurious origin of very many of its passages — is a cross-section of 
the total mind of Israel, high and low alike; but the significant mat- 
ter is not how some of these thinkers conformed to the ideals of 
their world but rather the astonishing way in which many of them 
transcended it. We shall have occasion presently to note the height 
to which their universalistic hopes attained. However particular- 
istic certain passages may show themselves in their concept of the 
future and the culmination of the historic process, we must read 
them in their total context and as illumined and sublimated by the 
ideals of men of wide vision who were actually the point of signifi- 
cance in ancient Israel. Stripped of their imagery, then, and inter- 
preted in their truest Israelite context, the Old Testament dreams 
of the end of history mean simply that human life is a progress to 
better things. Ultimately right will triumph and will be the rule 
and law of all mankind. 



T he Israelites thought of themselves as a nation centered 
about a fusion of the ideas of their common ancestry and of the 
covenant with their God. Neither of these is as simple as it might 
appear. According to the tradition, God had called Abraham from 
Ur of the Chaldees, had led him to Palestine, and there had prom- 
ised him a numerous offspring who should become a mighty nation 
and possess the land in which he was then a foreigner. The prom- 
ise was renewed on various occasions, notably in the great experi- 
ence at Sinai, and its character as a covenant with dual responsibil- 
ities became clear. In simplest terms, Israel was to be the people of 
Yahweh, and he was to be their God. Their allegiance implied re- 
jection of all other gods and service of him alone in ritual and in 
national and social obedience. On the other hand, he, as their God, 
was responsible to fulfil the promise to give them the land, to make 
them a great people, and to bestow upon them material bounty, 
physical well-being, and spiritual content. 

But difficulty arises when one seeks to trace these ideas back 
into the nation’s early history. Once more exploring the evidence 
of the old sources in the Book of Judges, to our astonishment we 
find neither of these supposedly basic notions of Israel’s common 
life. Unquestionably there was some unifying bond among the 
clans and tribes of that time; equally it had resemblances to both 
these ideas; yet it was far short of either. Israel’s sense of a com- 
mon interest by which various groups united in face of danger was 
evidently a conviction of essential unity such as would imply, espe- 
cially for that time and region, a common ancestry. But nowhere 
is it mentioned, even in vague terms. It may be that the omission 
is due to circumstances which rob it of significance, yet the fact that 
the older sources in Samuel manifest the same oversight and that 
one goes on as far as the prophetic histories and then to the writing 
prophets for indubitable evidence of belief in a common ancestry 
strengthens the suspicion ffiat things were not what later writers 



would have us believe. Further, while the names “Israel” and 
“Jacob” are familiar designations for the nation and descent 
from Jacob is spoken of, mention of Abraham outside the Penta- 
teuch is astonishingly rare until a quite late time. Since the old 
narrative documents incorporated in the Pentateuch commonly 
designated J and E, according to orthodox criticism were already 
in existence before the age of the prophets, it is strange that these 
writers should pass over the impressive account of Abraham’s 
call and the promise to him. References to the nation’s history 
commonly reach back to the oppression in Egypt and the Exodus, 
in some cases to the career of Jacob; but back of that all is blank. 
The meaning of this situation is difficult to appraise. One solution 
might be that the J-E stories of Abraham represent a little-known 
tradition which only through the growing prestige of the proto- 
Pentateuch won general acceptance about the time of the Exile, but 
familiarity with the story of Jacob was somewhat old. 

However this may be, it is apparent that descent from Jacob 
could have been just as satisfactory as a basis of national coherence 
as an Abrahamic theory. Even accepting this presumably lesser 
view, complications are not yet at an end; for it was freely recog- 
nized by Hebrew writers that even this theory was threadbare; 
we are told in no uncertain terms that the nation was not of com- 
mon ancestry. A great mixed multitude went with the Hebrews out 
of Egypt and clearly amalgamated with them. In the conquest 
large numbers of Ganaanites were not exterminated — ^not even 
conquered; but the Ganaanites dwelt with the various tribes to the 
day of the historian (Judg. 1 : 21 ff.). Eventually Solomon en- 
slaved the last of them, but in the meantime the result of their liv- 
ing side by side was frequent intermarriage, as the laws make 
clear. Yet such mixing of the blood of Israel was not in defiance of 
public conscience; it was condoned and legalized. The story of 
Ruth the Moabitess is symbolic of a free intercourse which the an- 
cient writer finds no basis for criticizing. The prohibition of ad- 
mission of Ammonites and Moabites into the assembly of the 
Lord unto the tenth generation (Deut. 23 ; 3) carries clear implica- 
tion that they were acceptable after this long probation and that 
others came in more freely, as indeed -is stated of Egyptians and 
Edomites in the sequel to this passage (vs. 8) . Even the relatively 


late Priestly document provided that the sojourner who consented 
to be circumcised would be not alone permitted to eat the Pass- 
over but accepted as of the status of the native-born. The doors 
were thus thrown wide open to proselytizing,, and its prevalence 
in the cenmries about the beginning of the Christian Era is well 

The implication is apparent. The Israelites recognized, just as 
modem historians also, that as a nation they were highly com- 
posite; lineal descent from Abraham or from Jacob was a pleasant 
fiction to which some central reality was attached, but it was in no 
sense the test of membership in the commonwealth of Israel. This 
depended rather on personal faith and conduct. The foreigner who 
submitted to circumcision and who manifested loyalty to Israel’s 
faith and institutions became a good Israelite; to employ a famous 
phrase of a later writer, he was grafted into the stock of Abraham. 
Paul was once again expounding the best thought of his people 
when he distinguished between Israel after the flesh and after the 
spirit. In final essence membership in the nation Israel was a spir- 
imal matter; it was a question of loyalty. A phrase in the Song of 
Deborah expresses the final essence of Israelite nationality: Israel 
was “the people of Yahweh.” 

The problem of the covenant is similar. It became so popular in 
later literamre of the Old Testament that even critical scholars in- 
dorse the delusion that Israel from the first shaped its thought on 
the basis of a covenant with Yahweh. Yet the fact is that the idea is 
absent from early sources. The Song of Deborah speaks at the 
most, in the phrase just now quoted, of “the people of Yahweh” 
0udg. 5:11). The word brith (“covenant”) occurs, it is true, in 
an unquestionably early source in the Book of Judges; but it is in 
the name, or title, of the Shechemite god, Baal Berith 
8:33; 9:4). Yet this may not be invoked as collateral support of 
the idea of Israel’s religious covenant, for the title may mean no 
more than that this god was patron and guardian of agreements. 
More to the point is the occurrence of the word in connection 
with Israel’s sacred ark in the account of the capture of this by 
the Philistines (I Sam. 4:3-5) and of its transfer to Jerusalem in 
David’s reign (II Sam. 6:17). Yet this is meager and questionable 
evidence for the theological idea commonly postulated. Specific 



mention of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh occurs first in the 
Book of Hosea, two of which allusions are evidently genuine 
(Hos. 6:7; 8:1). The idea is absent from Isaiah and Micah but 
is referred to a number of times in the utterances of Jeremiah; 
then, as is well known, it becomes one of the great emphases of 
Deuteronomy. When we recall that Hosea lived not long after 
the ascribed dates of composition of the J and E documents, the 
situation becomes relatively clear. The notion of a covenant be- 
tween God and Israel was introduced by these “prophetic his- 
tories”; it was indorsed by Hosea, adopted by Jeremiah, and in 
Deuteronomy became an essential element of Israel’s theology. 

But the objection obtrudes itself that specific mention is not the 
whole story, for the covenant is implicit in much of the early 
thought: in the rallying of the tribes in Yahweh’ s name in the time 
of the Judges, in their consciousness as “the people of Yahweh,” 
and much else of the sort. To this one can but give hearty assent. 
Certainly the J and E writers and their successors who made so 
much of the idea did not create it out of pure imagination. The 
concept was implicit from a very early period. But such implica- 
tion sets the whole notion on a very different basis from that usually 
ascribed. For it destroys the uniqueness of Israel’s claim and 
makes the notion of divine covenant a normal feature of oriental 
religious thought. The relation of Yahweh to the scattered tribes 
of the Judges’ time was, so far as we can see, purely that of the 
national god. There is no reason to postulate any essential differ- 
ence at this time between the attitude of Israel to her God and that 
of Moab or Ammon or Edom or any other nation to Chemosh, 
Milcom, or whatever other appropriate deity. The idea of a na- 
tional god carried in it the concept of a covenant between the god 
and his people. It was Israel’s uniqueness to develop this into the 
notable form and religious worth of her doctrine of the divine 
covenant. This became in turn a very powerful motivation; none- 
theless, the covenant was secondary in Israel’s religious and ethical 

Somewhere along this line of development of the pagan national 
god idea into the ethical doctrine of the covenant there entered the 
concept of the divine choice of Israel that was destined to become 
the distinctive feature of the nation’s tliought of itself. Again we 


are to see it as implicit ever since the simplest forms of the belief in 
a national god; but, like the covenant idea itself, it attained an exal- 
tatioh such as to make of it a new thing. The simplest statement, 
and perhaps the original, of the doctrine is the story of the divine 
call of Abraham (Genesis, chap. 12); but altogether its greatest 
formulation is in the Book of Deuteronomy, where it is presented 
as an act of God’s free grace. Because of his love for Israel he chose 
them when they were few and the smallest nation of the earth— 
they possessed no merit, they had no claim upon God: of his free 
will he bestowed upon them his love and chose them as his own 
people (Deut. 7 : 6-8) . It must be recognized that in this, not less 
than in the concept of the covenant, there was profound ethical 
content which religious leaders were not slow to apply for the 
vitalizing of the religion of nation and individual, several of them 
commenting on the astonishing fact that Israel was a peculiar 
treasure of God. 

Here was the essence and being of Israel’s sense of unique- 
ness. Her God had chosen her out of all the nations of the world 
and had entered into an intimate relation with her, such as no other 
people enjoyed. Such consciousness of peculiarity pervades the 
Old Testament. One cannot but be impressed with its clear ex- 
pression in a document so relatively early as one of the Balaam 
oracles: “Lo it is a people that dwelleth alone and is not reckoned 
among the nations” (Num. 23 : 9) . Here is expressed precisely that 
sense of difference in which anti-Semitism through its whole long 
course has found its real origin and provocation and which to this 
day continues, among the ignorant or bigoted, to make the Jewish 
people an object of suspicion and persecution. 

But all nations to some extent consider themselves unique. Some 
of the most notable expressions of this in all history have been 
manifest in the tragic events of recent times. But, too, these exag- 
gerations have sufficed to reveal similar arrogance in our own 
thought. Israel’s faith in herself was basically but a manifestation 
of this universal human trait. She, too, believed in a unique char- 
acter and a glorious destiny; she clung to hopes of world leader- 
ship, if not acmally political or military domination. Yet we under- 
stand the Hebrew doctrine of “the peculiar people” in terms not 
of its identity but of its distinctive feature, and this is not far to 


seek. The vital root, as well as the essence of the Hebrew sense of 
difference, was the uniqueness of Israel’s God. One of the poets well 
expressed this, remarking of the hostile gentile nations: “For their 
rock is not as our rock even our enemies themselves being judges” 
(Deut. 32:31). It was a profound insight. Whatever hypercriti- 
cism may say of the arrogance of the dogma of the divine choice 
and the peculiar people, it cannot be denied that at this point we 
touch solid reality. Israel’s God was vastly different from the 
deities of all other nations, and Israel was, as a fact of history, the 
people of God. It was Israel’s proper realization of this superiority 
and of her own uniqueness in her faith and worship of this God 
that constituted her separateness. No other course was possible 
but that Israel should “come out from among” the nations and be 
separate unless she would be recreant to her spiritual heritage and 
apostate from her best self. 

Nevertheless, in spite of the interpretations offered by liberal 
thought, ancient or modern, the doctrine of divine choice did in 
actuality work out as a proHfic source of national arrogance. How 
could it have done otherwise, the Hebrews being of a human falli- 
bility such as our own? Yet there were not lacking thinkers who 
pointed out the more profound meaning of their special relation- 
ship in a special responsibility. A writer in the Book of Amos has 
the Lord warn Israel: 

You only have I known 
of all the clans of the earth; 
therefore will 1 visit upon you 
all your iniquities [Amos 3:2]. 

The meaning of the divine choice of Israel as better minds came 
to understand it was revealed in the call of Isaiah. In his great 
initial experience as a prophet he heard the voice of the Lord, not 
in a personal call to himself, but in a general appeal: “Whom shall 
we send and who will go for us?” And Isaiah’s call lay in the fact 
that, having heard, he responded: “Here am I; send me.” The 
Lord’s work waited to be done; who was able and willing to under- 
take it? That was the essence of Isaiah’ s call — and of the call of Is- 
rael as well. The divine election was not for privilege or arrogant 
separateness but to service. The Lord’s work waited to be done! 


The greatness of the Servant Songs of Second Isaiah in this re- 
gard is so well known that exposition is unnecessary. Israel’s di- 
vinely appointed destiny was that she should be “a light to the 
Gentiles.” The same thought is vividly enforced in the story of the 
recalcitrant prophet Jonah. And numerous other passages cherish 
this vision of Israel’s high call and responsibility. In her knowledge 
of God she had a treasure of such serene exaltation that she might 
not, at peril of her soul, retain it as hers alone. The greatness of her 
experience compelled that Israel share her best with all. 

The place of foreign nations in Hebrew thought is the counter- 
part of the doctrine of the peculiar people. The bitter hatreds, the 
imprecations, the ruthless slaughters that are recorded in many a 
page of the Old Testament, call for no recapitulation but only un- 
derstanding of the bmtal world of which Israel was a part. Even 
the Psalter, the voice as it is of Israel’s deepest spiritual experi- 
ences and aspirations, has many a passage less in intensity but of 
similar mood to the terrible curse: 

O daughter of Babylon who art to be destroyed .... 
happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth 
thy little ones against the rock [Ps. 137:8, 9] . 

Yet better things are apparent even from the days of the conquest, 
when Joshua spared the Gibeonites. The kings readily and fre- 
quently entered into friendly relations with neighbor nations. How- 
ever, the function which rehgion strangely has very often served of 
creating divisions and animosities was manifest as early as the 
time of Elijah, when the prophets denounced and threatened Ahab 
for leniency toward the defeated Ben-Hadad. But our interest is in 
the attimdes of the rehgious group after doctrines of the covenant, 
the divine election, and the peculiar people had taken firm hold of 
their thought. 

The separatism induced by the religion of even some of the best 
thinkers in the time of the kingdoms is apparent in the attitude of 
Isaiah, for example, who definitely feared contamination of the re- 
ligion of Yahweh by close relations with foreign nations. The high 
emphasis given this warning by the Deuteronomic school is famil- 
iar to every student of the Old Testament. Still a more liberal mood 
existed even in that time, as evidenced by Amos’s famous pro- 


nouncement as to the equality of Philistines and Syrians with the 
Hebrews in the sight of God (Amos 9:7). 

Both these attitudes found yet more pronounced expression in 
the later time. The separation of Judah was a prime policy of 
Nehemiah and Ezra and became an aspect of the thought of the 
following centuries . Yet a full understanding of the situation quali- 
fies in a marked degree the obloquy which the modem temper 
has been prone to offer all these. Certainly Nehemiah and Ezra, 
and presumably the leaders of the ritual movement likewise, took 
their course through an apprehension as well based as that which 
had functioned in the days of the prophets. The paganism of the 
Jewish group at Elephantine, a fair index as it probably is of the 
religion of most Palestinian Jews of the fifth century b.c. — and 
certainly we cannot posmlate a better attainment of the neighbor- 
ing Samaritans — constitutes vivid commentary on the work of the 
Jewish reformers. It was against such conditions that they set up 
their stringent restraints. And, to be fair to them, what other 
course was practical? A genial affability would have resulted, be- 
yond a doubt, in that contamination and dissipation of Jewish re- 
ligion which they feared. And Judaism through the remaining pre- 
Christian centuries, even when the state became strong in Pales- 
tine, lived in immediate contact with self-confident heathenism. 
The reality and persistence of its problem are apparent to one who 
will read with insight the restrictions in the tractate, Aboda Zara. 
Yet, as symptomatic of the mood of Jewish religion when its very 
existence was not imperiled, it is to be noted that the Priestly docu- 
ment is in some regards the most liberal strand in the Pentateuch. 
Its provision for admission of loyal sojourners into Judaism has al- 
ready been noted. 

The universalism of Second Isaiah has already been mentioned. 
Dreamer as this poet was, he could well picture glowing ideals 
which the practical men of affairs might struggle toward only as 
time and circumstance would permit. The truth of his vision and 
the greatness of his achievement are not disparaged when it is 
recognized that his dreams were impossible of realization in that 
time. They were the seed of the future, which in fact did produce 
bounteous harvest. But their time of fruitage was not in his day. 
Still, initiated by his utterances, there ensued, as President Mor- 


genstem of Hebrew Union College has pointed out, a notable mood 
of universalism in Jewish thought from which there are numerous 
passages of broad humanitarianism in the latter chapters of the 
Book of Isaiah and in the Minor Prophets. The length to which 
these thinkers went may well surprise us. They seem frankly to 
have abandoned all claims of Jewish privilege, holding only for a 
faithful loyalty to Israel’s God. In every nation, they believed, 
there were those who served the Lord, and his name was honored 
throughout the world. The foreigner, also, who joined himself to 
the Lord to minister to him and to love his name would come to the 
temple in Jerusalem with all the rights of native-born Jews and 
there would rejoice in worship in the house that would be called a 
house of prayer for all peoples. This movement seems to have been 
most powerful in the sixth and fifth cenmries. Then the success of 
the reform of Ezra changed the aspect of Jewish thought; but not 
its essence, for the ideals of this expansive period lived on to mod- 
erate the stringency of ritual particularism and to offer promise of 
wider vision when the destined moment should arrive. 

Discussion of this topic would be incomplete without mention of 
the work of the wise men. They were characteristically interna- 
tional in their attitude. They were the scholars of the ancient 
world, and scholarship is always larger than nationalism. The the- 
ism of the Hebrew wisdom movement has already been described. 
Like the scholars of the Renaissance, these men saw no contradic- 
tion in being at the same time humanists. Their work in reinter- 
preting the dogmas of orthodoxy and in mitigating its rigidity will 
come to mind with the mere mention of Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom 
of Solomon, and the work of Philo. 

But while these questions were demanding solution, other as- 
pects of Hebrew corporate life likewise posed acute issues. The 
nation, in its internal aspect, that is, as society, underwent pro- 
found changes which precipitated problems for the Hebrew 

We do not know the cultural background and ethnic origins of 
the tribes that took part in the movement which we know best as 
Joshua’s conquest of Palestine, yet the influence of the Arabian 
Desert was strong upon them, if we may judge from such informa- 

tion as we possess of their social life in the immediately following 
period. And certainly nomadic influence continued a potent force 
in Israel’s life, reinforced by the steady infiltration of desert wan- 
derers who entered and lived much as Abraham had done many cen- 
turies before. The process has continued to the present; the black 
tents of the nomads pitched in convenient spots as far west as the 
shoulder of Carmel at the entrance to the Plain of Accho are, for 
those who can understand, among the revealing sights of modern 

Life in the desert, with its loneliness, its sparseness and tran- 
sience resulting in insecurity, has through unnumbered centuries 
induced characteristic social forms. Life centers itself in the tribe 
and clan: outside, insecurity quickly attains the point of extinc- 
tion. Survival is a matter of social strength. There result the char- 
acteristic features of nomadic life — group solidarity, blood cove- 
nant, blood revenge, and hospitality. The persistence of these into 
Israel’s life in Palestine is evidenced by many incidents and allu- 
sions of which it suffices to mention the national consequence of 
Achan’s trespass and the execution of his entire family with him 
(Joshua, chap. 7) ; the hanging of the seven descendants of King 
Saul to relieve the drought that afflicted the land, so it was believed, 
because of the king’s wrongdoing (II Sam. 21 : 1-1 1) ; also the nu- 
merous instances of blood feud (e.g., II Sam. 3:27-30; 14:5-7) 
or of blood guilt (e.g., II Sam. 25 : 33; I Kings 21 : 19) . Notwith- 
standing the persistence of these attitudes, especially among certain 
groups, altered conditions of life in Palestine soon began their 
moderating influence. The solidarity of the social group is not 
typical of peasant life. On the contrary, the tiller of ffie soil is by 
nature a stubborn individualist. Further, agricultural life, centering 
as it did in the country villages or, during times of danger, in walled 
towns, conduced rather to community than to communal life, with 
foreshadowing of even city organization. Still, the old patriarchal 
institutions were not completely unsuited to land tenure, and 
through these early centuries the idea of family possession took 
such firm hold as to be written into the laws and to provide the 
background for the colorful incident of Jezebel’s theft of Naboth’s 
ancestral property. The revolution in Hebrew society, which pres- 
ently came about, for it was nothing less, was inaugurated by King 


David. When he captured the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem and 
made it the capital of his united kingdom, he set in motion forces 
of which clearly he-had no conception; and, although in his own 
person he soon succumbed to certain of them, he could not have 
anticipated the distance to which they were to carry Israelite 

Briefly, the process was the urbanization of Hebrew life. The 
term is a deliberate overstatement, for, to the end, life in Palestine 
remained basically agricultural. Yet the change that began with 
David, confined as it was first to Jerusalem and then to other cities 
and royal residences, in course of time transformed Hebrew soci- 
ety, leaving only vestiges of the old institutions. The change began 
with the court. The king surrounded himself with a coterie of sup- 
porters and military oflicers, then presently with a considerable 
and growing harem which in turn attracted hangers-on — in more 
respectful terms, courtiers — ^who lived by the favor of the king 
and by their own, shrewdness. But the court and camp were not 
insulated against the city. David and his men were hardy outlaws 
who knew the wild lands of the Negeb better than the graces of city 
life. But with their success they found themselves the “upper 
class” in an old city whose institutions and habits long antedated 
the coming of Israel into the land. The luxury and indulgence of 
city life soon softened the hardihood of the king, certainly, and, 
it is fair to conclude, of his followers also. But the city had its 
aristocracy also and its classes in descending order. And apart 
from the old military clique of the Jebusites, which evidently was 
wiped out or absorbed by the Hebrew captors of the city, it was a 
loose organization based on commerce, industry, and probably re- 

Under Solomon the influences of court and city flourished. In- 
deed, the fame of his days is to be understood largely in terms of 
the development of urban life. His immense building program laid 
the ground for a huge class of temple and palace officials and serv- 
ants. Not less indicative of the changes taking place were his com- 
mercial ventures; royal monopolies they were, but still indicative 
of what was to continue in some form through the following cen- 
turies. The king’s mining and smelting activity in Edom was like- 
wise adapted to alter deeply the outlook and structure of his king- 


dom, a result that we dimly discern through the biblical historian’s 
enthusiastic account of the wealth of the age. With this there went 
political changes that must be survey^ more systematically in a 
moment; for the present we are concerned primarily with the 
practical enslavement of hosts of Hebrew tribesmen. We are told 
that they were only Canaanites whom the king so employed, but 
elsewhere it is made clear that his own fellow-Hebrews were by 
no means exempt. 

The outcome, as everyone knows, was the revolt under Reho- 
boam. The northern tribesmen demanded restoration of their an- 
cient rights. On the king’s refusal they set up a state which at first 
seems to have fulfilled their objective of freedom from city domina- 
tion and from an oppressive court, but within half a century matters 
in the north were every whit as bad as in Judah. The same forces — 
commercial and industrial development and the inescapable trends 
of city life — operated in both. Samaria was as Jerusalem. North and 
south alike, the ancient social structure was breaking down, and 
life was conforming to its new facts. The culmination came in the 
eighth century. The immediately conducive forces were the hun- 
dred years’ war with Syria and the ensuing tranquillity of the 
time of Jeroboam II. The social features of the time are familiar 
to every student of the prophecies of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and 
Micah. At one extreme was a selfish and indolent group of cour- 
tiers and idle rich living their parasite life of drunken revelry; at 
the other, the peasantry and poorer workers whose slavery was 
not merely that of an income below a living standard but sank even 
to the unqualified legal sort. And between these upper and lower 
levels a numerous class of greedy business folk cheated and swin- 
dled one another and whoever else might fall within their power. 
Little wonder thoughtful persons of the age looked back to the 
good old days of simplicity. Israelite society had departed far from 
the rude equity of its times of patriarchal institutions. 

The fatalism of the Orient and social despair such as that voiced 
by Ecclesiastes in a later age did not preclude efforts at reform. It 
would have been strange if there were not at that time some who 
as in every age advocated a solution by the simple process of turn- 
ing back the clock. The good old days were those of rustic, or 
even nomadic, society; then away widi the city and all its distor- 


tions! The Rechabite movement, while not founded in a mood of 
reform, clearly did mean, however, for the Rechabites themselves 
deliverance from current evils by the too easy course of denying 
civilization. “Remain Bedouin,” Jonadab ben Rechab had com- 
manded his descendants; and, faithful to patriarchal authority, they 
followed this plan for centuries. It is rather more surprising to dis- 
cover that this attitude found acceptance even among the prophets. It 
was Elijah’s temper; Hosea held up the ideal of a time when Israel 
should once again live in tents; and some writer whose words we 
have in the seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah apparently be- 
lieved that the land’s reversion to wilderness and its inhabitants’ 
return to hunting would solve the problems of his time. But civili- 
zation cannot be voluntarily thwarted, nor can its evils be escaped 
by evasion. Israel’s thinkers were not all Gandhis. Some believed in 
direct political action; it is noteworthy, however, that after the re- 
volt in the days of Rehoboam this method was tried again only 
once. But then, Jehu’s conduct, though instigated by the prophets, 
was roundly denounced in the sequel. 

Two other solutions were advanced by different groups. It was 
characteristic of Israelite life that the liberal-minded did not throw 
up their hands in despair, nor yet accept the situation with pseudo- 
pious resignation. They confronted it as a social situation that cried 
out for action. In this they were not without antecedent. Uruka- 
gina in Shumer had sought reform through legislation many cen- 
turies before, and six hundred years after his time Hammurabi of 
Babylon had renewed the effort. The musings of the Egyptian seer 
Ipuwer evidenced the same social stirring, although in the end his 
prophecy dissipated itself largely in wishful thinking; but the au- 
thor of the speeches of the Eloquent Peasant was of more vigorous 
mood. Nonetheless, the contribution of the Hebrew prophets to- 
ward social reform was such as to set them in a class apart. In 
their compelling earnesmess, in their intensity of conviction, in 
their penetrating insights and ethical elevation, they were a crown- 
ing glory of the cultures of the ancient East; and they retain to this 
day a high place among the great of all ages. The prophets’ solu- 
tion of the social problem was simple, yet incisive. Social better- 
ment is to be brought about by personal reform. Remake the 
selfish and dishonest, and you will have an ideal society: Jerusa- 


lem will be redeemed with righteousness and then become s faith- 
ful town. 

Now it was no accident that the prophets threw the social prob- 
lem back upon the individual’s character. For by their genius they 
were individualists. And one of their great contributions to Israel’s 
thinking was in this regard. While undertaking to combat the re- 
sults of Israel’s long development away from the nomadic social 
structure, they actually contributed the final element in making a 
return to the old thinking forever impossible. The individual had 
been emerging from his absorption in the group ever since the days 
of the first settlement in the land, but the prophetic experience pro- 
vided new impetus for the developments. The essence of prophecy 
was its personal relation with God. The prophet received his mes- 
sages, so he was convinced, not out of law or tradition, but through 
his own individual experience in which he heard the Lord speaking 
to himself. Accordingly, he stood before king, priest, and people 
and, on his own unsupported conviction that he as a person pos- 
sessed invaluable truths denied to all others, hurled his denuncia- 
tions and directions in opposition to accepted standards and con- 
duct. The prophetic experience, not less than the prophet’s words, 
became the basis of religion of the later age, in time absorbing into 
itself other expressions of piety. The personal quality of the Psalms 
which has made them to this day the great classic of inner religion 
is but the extension to every devout believer of the prophets’ ex- 
perience of the reality of God in individual life. 

Such, then, is the meaning of the prophets’ advocacy of reform 
through personal regeneration. Still its real worth we grasp best, 
it may be, by reference to the hope voiced in a late time. For the 
doctrine of the law written on the heart (Jer. 3 1:33) will be recog- 
nized as nothing less than the hope that this experience known 
first by the prophets should in time become the possession of every 
faithful soul. 

It was the weakness of the prophetic program of reform that, in 
modern phrase, it lacked teeth. The appeal to the thought and con- 
science of his audience, while ultimately the only means to the re- 
form of thought or conduct and justified in the religious history of 
succeeding centuries, was for the time of the prophet himself large- 
ly futile. It is always difficult to the point of impossibility to ap- 


praise correctlf a contemporary who departs from accepted pro- 
cedures . The prophets met with little success ; the majority of their 
compatriots thought them misguided nuisances. Their reforms did 
not come about, save only after centuries and then imperfectly. 
But the legislator is a man of a different approach. He intends, and 
he takes steps to see to it, that his policies shall be put to practical 
use. Nonetheless, the reforms of Asa, Joash, and Hezekiah ac- 
complished nothing of social significance. Their objectives were 
culric, not ethical, an illuminating fact in itself as showing that so- 
cial ethics had not yet seized the conscience of the rulers. But 
not so the reformers to whom we are indebted for one of the truly 
great bodies of Israel’s literature, the Book of Deuteronomy. This 
is, as the name happily indicates, a recapimlation — better, a re- 
vision — of the old social legislation of Israel. It is relevant to our 
present interest that the date commonly assigned to the basic core 
of the book is late in the eighth cenmry or sometime in the first 
three quarters of the seventh; consequently, it was aimed at ameli- 
orating contemporary conditions of the sort sketched above. 

These legislators were profoundly conscious of the social prob- 
lem. Their revision of the old laws in favor of the poor and under- 
privileged provides many interesting features. The recension of 
the Decalogue (Deut. 5:6-21), while perhaps not properly a part 
of the original work, is drawn into its temper. In contrast to the 
familiar law of the Sabbath that enjoins observance because the 
Lord rested on the seventh day and hallowed it, the Deuteronomic 
law gives as the reason a recollection of the enslavement in Egypt 
and consideration for the manservant and maidservant so that they 
may enjoy a Sabbath’s rest as well as their master. In the code 
proper the old agricultural prescription for a sabbatic year of fal- 
low is transformed into a year of cancellation of debt, or it may be 
only a year of grace from its collection. The tithe of the third y ear 
is to be laid up in a city where the Levite, the sojourner, the father- 
less, and the widow may come and partake freely. In the com- 
munal festivals of the religious seasons and the payment of tithes, 
these same classes of indigent, along with the male and female 
slaves, are to share in the rejoicing, apparently provided for by the 
bounty of their more fortunate neighbors. Notable, too, is the new 
regulation of slavery. For the first time the Hebrew woman slave 


is permitted to share in the manumission at the end of six years of 
service. Still more striking, liberated slaves are to be given gener- 
ously of their masters’ produce, a clear effort to meet the situation 
where formerly the slave, after his years of service, went out into 
society as poor as he had been six years before and hence liable 
soon to lose his freedom again. Significant is the fact that this gen- 
erosity is not to be in niggardly spirit, for “thou shalt remember 
that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God 
redeemed thee.” 

How far these expedients were effective in relieving the suffer- 
ing of the time it is not possible to calculate. At the worst they 
promise as much as our modem expedients of soup kitchens and 
bread lines in time of economic stress. The malady was too deep 
for superficial treatment, however. Poverty has origins and causes 
which it ought to be possible to isolate and perhaps remedy. It is 
not less than astonishing that these social thinkers of twenty-five 
centuries ago recognized this fact. In addition to the palliatives 
just now sketched, Deuteronomy goes to the heart of Ae matter 
with a frontal assault on the problem of poverty. The solution of- 
fered may seem nothing but a pietistic leap into supernaturalism: 
“There shall be no poor with thee .... if only thou diligently 
hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all this 
commandment which I command thee this day” (Deut. 15:4, 5). 
Yet the statement deserves further examination. In its context, “all 
this commandment” was a comprehensive program; it was nothing 
less than full social equity. There are probably few today who 
would deny that if all would “diligently observe to do” such a 
command, poverty in a land of plmty would shrink to terms de- 
scriptive of relative bounty. The crux of the matter is how to im- 
plement such a principle. The writer hints at a partial method in 
his repeated exhortations to consideration for the underprivileged. 
But the conditions of the eighth and seventh centuries b.c. did not 
obtrude upon the writer’s attention the complement of this in a 
total social program. 

It will be apparent that by this time the old social solidarity of 
the days of the conquest was extinct, save for some vestigial ideas. 
It is not at all surprising, then, that the concept of individual re- 
sponsibility in religion was formulated in definitive statement. 


first briefly by Jeremiah, and then somewhat more fully by Eze- 
kiel. It would seem that Ezekiel was in this, as in so much of his 
prophetic teaching, directly indebted to his older contemporary, 
his own contribution being merely that of expressing the idea in 
a form that seized upon general thought. The circumstances con- 
ducing to the enunciation of the doctrine at this time can be conjec- 
tured, if not certainly identified. The impelling consideration for 
both prophets seems to have been the disintegration of the nation, 
which obviously threw the individual out into relief. More spe- 
cifically, the warnings and reproof of the succession of prophets 
through several centuries, often directed immediately toward per- 
sonal conduct and always implying such application, had borne 
fruitage in a realization that the individual’s righteousness depend- 
ed, not on his membership in the nation, but on his response to the 
prophet’s message. A group of immediate followers and friends 
of the prophets, their disciples, to use Isaiah’s word (Isa. 8:61), 
successors to the older protomonastic organization of the “sons of 
the prophets,” had embodied the thought in living form as a sort of 
“church” within the state. In this there was visibly existent pre- 
cisely that individually centered society, in embryo, which the 
teaching of Jeremiah and Ezekiel indicated as the hope of survival 
beyond the imminent ruin of the nation. Their thought may well 
have been fertilized also with a realization of the unequal responsi- 
bility for this catastrophe, such as would compel consideration of 
corresponding recompense. But, finally, much depended on the 
personal characters of these two prophets. Jeremiah was a deeply 
sensitive man, who wrestled with a sense of personal injustice; and 
Ezekiel was moved by a feeling for the individuals for whose safety 
he was by his office responsible. 

Notvdthstanding its long antecedents, Ezekiel’s formulation of 
the doctrine of individualism in rehgion was still sufficiently new 
to provoke die excesses that usually attend novelty. Certain com- 
mentators in his book have stereotyped it into essentially a me- 
chanical procedure that automatically works retribution or reward 
in accord with the individual’s conduct (Ezek. 18:5-32; 33:12- 
20) . No regard is shown for the conditioning of heredity, habit, 
and circumstance, which other thinkers had considered; but the 
judgment is flat: if one does such and so, he is wicked; he shall die! 


However, the concept of the primacy of the individual in reli- 
gion worked out in a much more wholesome way than these pas- 
sages might indicate. And the whole problem of the antithesis and 
interrelation of society and individual, which has so recently been 
an issue of the first importance in world-wide politics and must 
continue with us for many a day, was given very' sane treatment in 
the course of Jewish history. Enough of the traditional emphasis 
on the supremacy of society persisted, if only as an influence, to 
insure avoidance of the atomism which has cursed our society. 
Judaism was, and remained, a community, expressing its character- 
istic fife and convictions in social institutions. But yet the individ- 
ual was never submerged. The long list of brilliant names in every 
walk of life that embellish Jewish history to our own day are suffi- 
cient testimony to the vitahty of individualism within Judaism. Yet 
they were rooted and nurtured in the Jewish community. They 
were its expression and outreach; and, in turn, it gave them a con- 
crete loyalty, a vitalizing devotion, and a transcendent purpose. 

The development of Israel’s politics paralleled closely that of 
her social thought. In several cases the same documents or recorded 
incidents have relevance for both. 

Here, too, the deficiency of our knowledge of the invading Ha- 
biru clansmen qualifies the approach to the question. The Amama 
letters mention certain chieftains of the invaders, but the means of 
their appointment and the nature of their office we do not know. 
One might invoke Bedouin rule as parallel, but the better course is 
to drop the problem for lack of evidence and go on to our earliest 
sources for Israel’s life after the settlement in Palestine. These re- 
veal clan and community organization under elders who apparently 
exercised judicial as well as executive functions. It was a primitive 
democracy, uncritical and unconscious, for there is no ground to 
suppose other than that every senior member of the group was ad- 
mitted to the governing body purely on the basis of his age. The 
decisions of these were apparently reached through free discussion 
of a most informal sort. The operation of such a ruling group is 
pictured in the story of Boaz’ negotiations for the redemption of 
Naomi’s property (Ruth 4 : 1-1 2) ; the narrative is presumably 
from a comparatively late time, but the councils of elders persisted 


in the smaller communities right through Old Testament history, 
so there is ground for believing that the author relates practice 
with which he was familiar. 

But the stress of circumstance compelled the coalescence of the 
smaller groups of clans and tribes into some approximation of a 
national unity. This is the story of the rise of successive “judges” 
and of their rule. Their election to leadership again exemplified 
primitive democracy. The basic fact was their ability to lead and 
to deal with the crises of the moment. This was variously manifest; 
at times through known repute, as in the case of Jephthah; again by 
spontaneous response to Ae simation which lifted the erstwhile 
peasant out of his mediocre role into an exhibidon of power and de- 
cision that doubtless surprised him not less than his associates. 
Probably physical prowess was in some cases the desired qualifica- 
tion. The point that concerns us is that, by whatever means, the 
“judge” won the free consent and loyal following of the clans, so 
that they accepted his command and under him went against the 

It was inevitable that success such as is related of these cham- 
pions would give them lifelong prestige, and so they “judged Is- 
rael” variously for ten, twenty, or forty years. But in only two 
cases is a tendency revealed to turn this advantage into hereditary 
rule. It was offered to Gideon, but he refused. Observe, it was 
offered xo him: the initiative was with the people. The terms of the 
refusal, too, are of interest. He replied: “I shall not rule over you, 
nor shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you.” 
If we may beg the doubtful question of the genuineness of the pas- 
sage, we may recognize in it again an expression of primitive de- 
mocracy. The unifying bond as well as guiding principle of the 
tribes had been their loyalty to their God: neither monarch, priest, 
nor organization had held them together, but all responded when 
their God spoke through the one chosen by him to save his people. 
And Gideon, recognizing well that spirimal bonds are mightier 
than political regimentation, desired to leave matters as they were. 
However, his son Abimeledi felt no such restraints. He was a 
typical self-seeking upstart of the sort that has made history — and 
trouble — through many a century, and his story runs true to the 
type as known in our own days. First he secured by specious argu- 


ment a following in the city of Shechem and then broadened and 
supported his rule by violence — ^undl at length violence in turn 
happily removed him . But in the meantime his venture was sympto- 
matic of die simation. So it is not at all surprising that presently 
another popularly chosen leader, after succeeding in the crisis that 
had called him forth, was frankly acclaimed as king, perhaps 
through the scheming of his friends; but also it is entirely possible 
that he was chosen by spontaneous action of the associated tribes 
who actually felt, as is recorded in a late account of the incident, 
that the exigencies of the disordered time required them to have a 
king as did other nations. In any case, Saul was “the last of the 
judges and the first of the kings.” Whether or not it was envisaged 
at Ae time of his choice, he came to believe that hereditary right 
lodged in his family. And, in point of fact, his son did succeed 

Saul maintained simple state at his country capital. He was more 
a rustic squire than a nation’s monarch. He was highhanded and 
arbitrary at times, yet not more so than many a father unforra- 
nately has shown himself in his own family, and he manifested lit- 
tle inclination to enlarge the prerogatives of his office by en- 
croachment on traditional rights of his people. He did, it is true, 
refuse to be a mere underling of the old “kingmaker,” Samuel, for 
which he merits general respect. Somewhat more insidious, how- 
ever, were his attempt to establish the ascendancy of the throne 
over the priests and his jealous concern for his family’s succession 
as revealed in his rebuke of Jonathan’s friendship for David. But, 
on the whole, his behavior was well within what we may with some 
exaggeration call the constitutional rights of the monarchy. In the 
light of developments we can see, as did some ancient writer 
(I Sam. 8 : 10-18), that in himself, ex officio, he embodied a stem 
threat to Israel’s political institutions such as to constimte virtually 
a revolution. But of this Saul personally was largely innocent. 

David began well. He likewise was a popular chieftain who by a 
combination of personal and national exigencies emerged into such 
importance that he also was offered, and accepted, the throne. The 
menace from the Philistines was acute. After the disaster at Mount 
Gilboa, they were in practically undisputed control of all western 
Palestine; the Israelites lived % their grace. A hardened outlaw 


loyal to his people, such as David had abundantly shown himself, 
was just the man for the time. The popular choice was wise, and 
events soon went far to justify it. His phenomenal success in re- 
versing the ascendancy of the Philistines, in seizing the famous 
fortress of Jerusalem for his nation’s capital, and in extending his 
sway and influence until he was the mightiest monarch between 
the Euphrates and Egypt transformed the face not alone of the He- 
brews’ cultural status but of their politics also. 

Yet David never escaped his origin — as, who ever does.^ Some- 
thing of the soil and of his hardy life clung to him through all his 
changed condition as a great monarch in an ancient capital. He 
had risen from the peasantry, and to the end he understood his 
people and was properly restrained by his knowledge of their 
stubborn love of freedom and by the nature of his own position as 
dependent upon them. The sinister forces that played upon the 
throne in Jerusalem are best seen in the perspective of the entire 
united monarchy, extending as it did only into a third reign. 

An ominous feature, intelligible only in the light of later his- 
tory, appeared when David abandoned the command of the army 
in the field, remaining behind in Jerusalem while Joab conducted 
the campaign. It will be recalled that this was the background of 
the nefarious Bath-Sheba episode. Also it was at just the parallel 
point in their history that the obvious decay of the Ottoman 
dynasty set in. But even more pernicious was the influence of the 
harem — that breeding ground of seditions and knavery, as well as 
the source of the monarch’s personal demoralization, in every ori- 
ental court through history — ^which was firmly established by 
David and much enlarged by Solomon. It was a harem intrigue that 
determined the succession of Solomon. And Solomon’s son, who 
at length wrecked the kingdom, was of the second generation of 
moral decline that this institution had fastened upon the Jerusalem 

But other and less reprehensible influences were beating upon 
the king. Success tries the mettle of any man; and David had suc- 
ceeded beyond fond dreams. Did he ever in self-consciousness re- 
call his simple days as a shepherd boy near Bethlehem and wonder 
what his old father would think if now he could look in on the 
estate of his royal son? In any case, ease, luxury, and wealth that 


in Solomon’s days attained a relatively fabulous level, public re- 
spect that became adulation, full opportunity to indulge his whims 
such as easily descends into self-indulgence, and not least the posi- 
tion of king per se all combined to set the king apart from the sim- 
ple state of the nation’s leaders of only a little before. The mystic 
concepts of the monarchy expressed in various forms in the Orient 
from the divine kingship of Egypt to the mighty monarch, the darl- 
ing of the gods, as conceived in Mesopotamia, and further the in- 
terrelation of king and dying god through which the monarch in 
some way was the life and being of his people: these were entailed 
in some relevant way when Israel set up one of her sons as king. 
To the concept of the king as a being, in his religious significance, 
apart from and above his people, we have numerous allusions : Jere- 
miah refers to public lamentations at the deatli of a king such as 
clearly relate them to the ritual of the fertility god (Jer. 22:18). 
The seemingly innocent story of Abishag, who was to warm the 
aged David (I Kings 1 : 1-^), is suspiciously reminiscent of wide- 
spread practices in which the ebbing virility of the old monarch 
was put to the test, since in his person he embodied the vital forces 
of the nation. The prevalent school of interpretation of the Psalms 
would see much of this testing of the king in the plaintive cries of 
many of these devout poems. Clearly, too, the monarch was re- 
garded in some mystic way as a person more than normal because 
of the fact that he was the anointed of the Lord. The application of 
the holy oil transformed him into another man (I Sam. 10:6) so 
that he came to stand in an intimate relation with God almost of 
sonship (Ps. 2:7) and certainly of close association (Psalm 110). 

It was, then, not merely from personal ambition which doubtless 
functioned, nor because of an exaggerated self-importance induced 
through unaccustomed flattery, that these kings moved steadily in 
the direction of arrogation of absolute powers. The development 
was almost forced upon them; it was inherent in the oriental king- 

Symptomatic of this was the accession of King Solomon. The 
earlier kings had been chosen by the people; for even the usurper 
Absalom the fiction of popular choice was maintained (II Sam. 
16:18). But Solomon was appointed by his father, under pressure 
from die harem. The old king had in his forty years of rule moved 


so far from principles folly accepted at his accession that he either 
forgot or chose to ignore the rights of his subjects. The succession 
had become a prerogative of the royal family. Yet there were dan- 
ger signals for any ruler not blinded with an exaggerated sense of 
his regal rights. When David was returning from his brief exile 
during the sedition of Absalom, there went up the ominous cry 
destined to be heard once more in a crisis of Israel’s history- “We 
have no portion in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of 
Jesse. To your tents, O Israel!” (II Sam. 20:1.) The kingship, 
whatever the entourage in Jerusalem might think, sat light upon 
the free men of Israel; and David knew it. He realized the acute- 
ness of the crisis; his prompt action throttled the separatist move 
and delayed its maturing for another generation. Rehoboam be- 
came heir of a problem foat he was vastly less fitted to meet than 
his grandfather had been. Yet, even with foil recognition of the 
folly he manifested, one cannot but feel some sympathy for him. 
He was a victim of circumstances. How could he, grandson of the 
harem and its nefarious political influences, have regarded the plea 
of the peasants as other than an infringement of his sacred rights? 
The dogma of the divine right of kings had grown apace through 
Solomon’s reign. It is evident in his irresponsible treatment of af- 
fairs of state: his public corvee of Israel’s free men; his extrava- 
gant court supported at the expense of the nation; his administra- 
tive division of the land in disregard of traditional tribal bounds; 
and his whole ingrown life in a court that defied the realities of 
Israel’s basic peasant economy and spent its days in the grand 
style, with feasting, royal processions, and dilettante scholarship in 
a setting of magnificent architecture, erected by Israel’s peasants, 
and with women enough for all and to spare. 

But we are indebted to Rehoboam for his clear statement of the 
issue. He had consulted with the older counselors, who apparently 
retained some sense of political realities, if not actual memory of 
events in the reign of David; but he accepted the view of the 
young fellows of the court, his boon companions reared, like him- 
self, in the diseased artificiality of the harem-infested court and 
doubtless for long anticipating the day when with his enthrone- 
ment they should do as they pleased. The serious request of the 
people of the north who lived on the land, far from the blandish- 



ments of Jerusalem, was “Lighten now the severe service exacted 
by your father, and the heavy yoke which he put upon us; then we 
will serve you.” Rehoboam replied: “My father chastised you 
with whips; I will chastise you with scorpions.” So there it was. 
Had the people rights? Or only the king? The revolt of the north- 
ern tribes was an assertion of the sovereign freedom of the com- 
mon people. The king stood firmly for the divine right of the king 
to rule his subjects as he chose. He was above the law: he was the 
law, and they had no rights beyond. For many today this claim is 
associated with the Stuart kings of England; but James I in his 
New Law for Free Momrchie, as his descendants in their official 
acts, was consciously dependent on the Old Testament. Whether 
he realized it or not, he was in the spirimal succession of Reho- 
boam. Yet if he had studied his Old Testament better, he might 
have found other matter more pertinent for his heirs, for one of 
these lost his head through his father’s principles, and another, like 
Rehoboam, lost his kingdom. 

Judah, then, by its loyalty to the House of David, was in the 
position of supporting despotism. And doubtless we are in a quali- 
fied way so to read Judean history, for the striking difference of its 
politics as over against Israel’s was the stability of the dynasty. 
Yet this meant less than the bare fact might suggest. The deposi- 
tions in the north were seldom the result of quasi-democratic agita- 
tion, the revolt of Jehu, inspired by the prophets, being a debatable 
exception. On the contrary, the accession of a new dynasty came 
about purely through personal ambition and commonly by violence. 
The initial impulse of liberty that rejected Rehoboam and set Jero- 
boam on the throne soon spent itself, and the north became even 
more the bauble of unprincipled and irresponsible rulers than was 
Judah. To the end, except for the doubtful case of Jehu’s overthrow 
of the House of Ahab, it provided no further matter relevant to 
constitutional development. Likewise there is all too little on the 
surface of Judean history. The succession of son following father 
upon the throne, broken only for the interval of Athaliah’s usurpa- 
tion, is related in the colorless terms that he “ruled in his stead”; 
whatever may have been Judah’s ritual counterpart of “The king 
is dead; long live the king,” information is generally lacking. In 
just three cases, where the monarch had met a violent death, it is 


told that the people took his son and set him on the throne (II 
Kings 14:21; 21 ;24; 22:30). The relation of this to normal pro- 
cedure of accession is quite uncertain; it lies wide open to guess- 
ing. But one matter at least is clear. The consciousness that final 
authority in selection of the monarch lay with the people was never 
abandoned. At most the right was merely held in abeyance, if in- 
deed we may be certain that it was not exercised or symbohzed in 
each case. That fact means much. After nearly four hundred years 
of the kingship the Judean people still refused to be regarded as 
pawns in Ae game of power poUtics; they had far-reaching rights, 
even as against their kings, which they would not surrender. And 
those rights, it will be observed, implied the complete democratic 
position. If the people were the final arbiters of who should rule 
over them, then authority rested, in the last recourse, not in the 
king, but in the people, however submissive these might at times 
consent to show themselves toward the court. 

A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept 
alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets. 
Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial 
of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the 
principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of 
right, the same pervasive namral law as his humblest subject. 
Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire atti- 
mde of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the 
monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely 
imposed responsibility. He was only the servant of the Lord ap- 
pointed to shepherd his people Israel. His task was to rule in ac- 
cord with revealed standards of equity. Samuel’s opposition to the 
kingship, like that of Gideon, on the ground that it was a denial of 
the Lord’s rule of his people, is probably a fiction of a later time; 
but at least it is true to the undertone of Hebrew political thought 
throughout the nation’s history. The theocracy of late times, in 
reality the hierocracy, was in its assumptions but a perpetuation of 
the very ancient thought that Israel was “the people of Yahweh”; 
they were to be governed by him through the man of his choosing 
who in his office accepted heavy responsibility for the well-being 
of the people. 

This sense of responsibility — of the high ethical demands de- 



volving upon a ruler — is strikingly voiced in the valedictory of 
Samuel. The old priest-prophet politician at the end of his career, 
standing before the convocation of the tribes, reported upon his 
discharge of duties in these words: “I am old and grayheaded . . . . 
and I have walked before you from my youth unto this day. Here 
I am: witness against me before the Lord and before his anointed: 
whose ox have I taken.^ or whose ass have I taken? whom have I 
defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I taken 
a bribe to blind my eyes therewith? and I will make restitution.” 
But the witness of the people was: “Thou hast not defrauded us, 
nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught of any man’s 
hand” (I Sam. 12:2-5). Briefly, Israel’s best thought recognized 
the far-reaching principle, which stirred as a ferment in the na- 
tion’s political life throughout its history, that authority, specifi- 
cally governmental office, was not to be regarded as an oppor- 
tunity for exploitation: it was a call to service. The ruler must use 
his office, not for personal advantage or profit, but for the benefit 
of the ruled. Here is the very finest tradition of public office known 
to this day. Its radical nature is evident on a moment’s considera- 
tion of the revolution it would effect even in our boasted modern 
lands if wholeheartedly accepted by all who share in city, state, 
and national government. Yet its persistence in Israel, if only as a 
hope and ideal of those who were outside the ruling class, is at- 
tested by Jeremiah’s condemnation of Jehoiakim near the end of 
the history of the kingdom: “Did not thy father .... do justice 

and righteousness? he judged the cause of the poor and needy 

But thine eyes and thy heart are not but for thy covetousness and 
for shedding innocent blood and for doing violence” (Jer. 22:15- 
17). Ezekiel, also, uttered a similar opinion relative to the official 
class of his time: “"Wbe to the shepherds of Israel who care for 
themselves! Should not the shepherds care for the sheep?” (Ezek. 
34:2). The popularity of the theme is shown in the lengthy com- 
mentary that a succession of writers have attached to this oracle. 

In this matter we come upon the very core of the uniqueness of 
Israel’s government among the nations of the Orient. It would be 
a distortion to claim that such ideals were unknown elsewhere, for 
both Egypt and Babylonia had voiced them, the one in literature, 
the other in legislation. But the striking fact about Israel’s thought 


was its dissemination and its persistence in the nation, as well as 
the expression it came to attain in law and, for a brief time, in in- 

On the background of the struggles and protestations surveyed 
above, the progressive group in Judah, sometime apparently in the 
seventh century b.c., formulated their theory of government in a 
document which has come to us in whole or in part in our Book of 
Deuteronomy. Its social legislation must be held in mind as one 
goes on to study its regulation of the office of king — that he should 
be chosen by the people from among themselves, and certain re- 
straints be placed upon his conduct. Then the document continues; 

It shall be when he sitteth on the throne of his kingdom that he shall write for 
himself a crapy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the 
Levites, and it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life 
that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and 
these statutes to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and 
that he turn not aside from the commandment to the right or to the left [Deut. 

In its historic setting and in its literary context this pronounce- 
ment is such as may without exaggeration be considered Israel’s 
Magna Carta. The king was not to be exalted in self-importance 
above his subjects; he should be at pains to obey all the words of 
the Deuteronomic code with its rich social implications; and, fur- 
ther, the book was to be kept at hand as a sort of constitution of 
the kingdom that would guide and limit the monarch’s rule. Here 
is the same defense of the common man against the arrogance of 
the monarchy and the same constitutional limitation of royal pow- 
er as was voiced in the famous English document of some eighteen 
centuries later. 

The Deuteronomic code was, in the reform of King Josiah in 621 
B.C., made the law of Ae land; and it would appear Aat during the 
dozen years of reign which remained to him he accepted loyally its 
direction and limitation. After four centuries of struggle the liberal 
group had won. Their principles of human rights and Aeir re- 
straints upon royal misconduct had found embodiment in Ae na- 
tion’s constitution. If once again one may be guilty of some meas- 
ure of overmodemization in order to bring out Ae essential mean- 
ing, we may assert Aat Ae great achievement of Ae Hebrew peo- 


pie, practically unparalleled as it was in the ancient world, was 
the attainment of a limited monarchy. 

But Josiah was succeeded by the despotic Jehoiakim, and he by 
Zedekiah, too weak a creature to have any influence on politics. 
And the end came so soon that no immediate sequel can be traced 
for the political principles affirmed in the reform. Still, in judging 
its historic significance, we must recall that after John, the unwill- 
ing agent of Magna Carta, came Henry III, whose arbitrariness 
and determination to nullify the charter were an unconscious rein- 
carnation of the conduct of Jehoiakim. It was a long struggle, and 
at many a time uncertain of outcome except for the stubborn and 
independent character of the people concerned, before finally con- 
stitutional rights were fully established. Recollection of the ambi- 
tions of the Stuarts and the wilfulness of George III give us to real- 
ize how recent was the culmination of what began so notably at 
Runnymede on that June day in a.d. 1215. Until the damage of the 
government buildings by a Nazi bomb, members of the British 
House of Commons were proud to point to the dents on the door of 
their chamber made by the ring on the finger of the king’s messen- 
ger sent to summon diem to hear the speech from the throne; he 
might not enter, for this was the domain of the common English- 
man; he could only stand at the door and humbly invite. 

But Judah was afforded no such experience of national survival 
and constitutional maturing of the principle so boldly affirmed in 
the legislation of Josiah’s reign. For the sequel we must look 
rather to the local councils of elders and the popular assemblies 
which not uncommonly some overenthusiastic writer in the Bible 
has exaggerated into “the whole congregation of all Israel.” 
These two, it is clear from the frequency of the reference, con- 
stituted the real local government of ancient Israel. Indeed, it is 
claimed by a recent historian that the authority of the court was 
in large measure confined to the capital and a few more important 
cities and that the smaller communities, right through the period of 
the kings, continued to pay final loyalty to their own assemblies 
and elders, with little more interference from the central authority 
than occasional demands for military assistance and for payment of 
certain taxes. Our sources do not permit us, finally, to adjudicate 
this claim, but at least it is clear that local authority was a continu- 


ing reality in Israel’s life and that the popular assembly was a po- 
tent facility for expression of the general will. 

In this institution, then, persisting through the vicissitudes of 
national history from the earliest days of the settlement in Pales- 
tine, was nurtured that independence of spirit which marked He- 
brew life throughout and could easily be fanned to violent action 
when age-old liberties were infringed. In this, too, lies justification 
of the claim that in ancient Israel there existed a genuine, if amor- 
phous, political democracy. Such local assemblies became the ex- 
pression of Jewish communal life after the destruction of the mon- 
archy, both in Palestine and among that section of the people who 
went into exile. And the story of subsequent Jewish political de- 
velopment is to be traced, not primarily in the hierarchy of restored 
Palestinian Judaism and the arrogance of the House of Hasmon, 
but in the popular assembly with its ruhng elders which continued, 
with local adaptations and variations, it is true, but in essential uni- 
formity, right through the long centuries of the dispersion and into 
our own times. It was the schooling in local self-government and 
the institutions so developed back in the hills and valleys of ancient 
Palestine that gave the uprooted Jews immediately a social organ- 
ism able to withstand the shock of exile and to support and adapt the 
community in its struggle to live in an alien environment. The Jews 
have always taken their politics seriously. The reason lies appar- 
ent in their age-old experience of individual participation in public 
affairs. This experience, crystallized into permanent form in the 
Old Testament, constitutes the most remarkable theory of govern- 
ment that came out of the ancient world and at the same time an 
ideal that rebukes and challenges the distressing imperfections of 
our boasted modem democracy. 

But the king was by no means the sole menace to common free- 
dom. The breakdown of the Egyptian empire and the circumstances 
contributory to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus, besides hosts of 
incidents from those days to the present, show that organized re- 
ligion, strange as it appears, can be no less an obstacle to social and 
political advance than the reactionary policies of vested political 


or economic interests. The church carries an implicit threat to 
freedom quite as truly as the court. 

An intimate relationship of church and state is traceable far 
back through human society. Early man’s sense of dependence on 
the will of the gods and his belief in their immediate interference in 
human affairs gave high place in community counsel and action to 
the spiritual adviser who, by theory, could tell just what the gods 
wished. The transfer of this special prestige into the politics of the 
ancient East is a familiar story. The monarchs in general either 
kept conveniently available a group of spiritual advisers or else 
paid such respect to the views of die hierarchy as to elevate the 
chief priest virtually into an important minister of the state. In 
Israel the role of prophets as royal counselors is evident in many 
incidents already mentioned; notable were the existence of a body 
of four hundred prophets in the court of Ahab and the relations of 
Samuel and King Saul. Yet this situation in its logical working-out 
could mean little less than a subjection of the political rulers such 
that they might fairly be described as priest-ridden. Beyond a ques- 
tion, this was the ideal cherished by a considerable group in Israel 
—such subservience for them was a mark of piety; it was obedi- 
ence to the will of God. This is the meaning of certain comments 
on the monarchs found in our Books of Kings; it is in large part 
the viewpoint of the Chronicler; it is freely expressed in the chap- 
ters added to the prophecies of Ezekiel in which the function of 
“the prince” is httle more than one of leadership in ritual under 
the priests. Further, it was built into actual political institutions in 
later Old Testament times; the rule of the high priests represented 
a complete triumph of the claim that church is supreme above 
state. Indeed, it was more extreme than certain modem expressions 
of the theory, for it did not leave the secular ralers as a sort of sub- 
department under the princes of organizoi religion, but instead the 
hierarchy gathered into itself the functions of both. The church 
had swallowed the state. 

What protests were voiced against this situation have left but 
few echoes in literature, which, we must recall, was transmitted 
by priestly, or pro-priestly, hands. Some of the Psalms are strange- 
ly nonritualistic for a collection that is freely recognized to have 


been “the hymn book of the second temple.” A passage in the 
Fifty-first is famous: 

For thou delightest not in sacrifice; else would 
I give it; 

thou hast no pleasure in burnt ofiering. 

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, 
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not 
despise [vss. 16-17]. 

In many, too, the temple appears as a house of prayer where wor- 
shipers go, independent of priestly propitiation. Yet all such ex- 
pressions do not obscure the fact that the Psalter, in the large, is 
loyal to the ritual and the hierarchy. At times it reaches an extreme 
of glorification of the priestly system, as in Psalm 119. But, on the 
other hand, in the account of the reform of Ezra a passage of dubi- 
ous translation is supposed to mention by name two individuals 
who withstood the proposed measures (Ezra 10:15). But the ac- 
tivity of Ezra was so mixed with power politics that one may not 
deduce too much from opposition, if actual. Similarly, the inference 
commonly drawn from the Books of Ruth and Jonah may not be 
adduced as anti-hierarchical. Somewhat earlier die prophet known 
as Malachi protested vigorously against the misconduct of the 
priests and voiced a high ideal of their responsibility: 

And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear and 
lay it to heart to give glory to my name, saith the Lord of hosts, then I will send 
the curse upon you and will curse your blessings; yea I have cursed them already. 

.... My covenant was with him [Levi] of life and peace The law of 

troth was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found in his lips: he walked 
with me in peace and uprightness and turned many away from iniquity. For the 
priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; 
for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts [2:1-7]. 

Yet none of this gives US quite what we seek. 

In the days of the kingdoms the priesthood enjoyed secular power 
through its judicial functions. The legislation of the Book of Deu- 
teronomy, in fact, elevates the priests into a supreme court of ap- 
peal, wiA but the possibility that a secular judge also was associ- 
ated with them. Judges and officers were to be appointed in every 
locality, but 

if there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment .... then thou shalt arise 
and get thee up unto the place which the L^rd thy God shall choose, and thou 


shalt come unto the priests, the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those 
days . . . . and they shall show thee the sentence of judgment .... thou shalt 
not turn aside from the sentence which they shall show thee, to the right hand or 
to the left. And the man that doeth presumptuously in not hearkening to the priest 
that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even 
that man shall die; and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people 
shall hear and fear and do no more presumptuously [17 : 8-1 3] . 

The legislation had teeth in it: capital punishment for disobedience 
of the priests! It was a provision that centuries later was doubt- 
less congenial to Torquemada. 

However, matters were by no means as bad as this would indi- 
cate. On the contrary, Saul’s bold defiance of the priest-prophet 
Samuel has already been cited, and Zadok and Abiathar and their 
sons seem to have been fully subject to David and Solomon. The 
leadership of Jehoiada in the overthrow of Athaliah and his rule for 
some years as regent may not be employed as evidence of the rise 
of the hierarchy to temporal power (II Kings 11 :4 — 12:16). It 
was a popular movement of which the chief priest was head, evi- 
dently because of his forceful personality. Indeed, to the end the 
supremacy of the monarchy appears to have been undisputed; even 
the law-abiding Josiah gave orders to the chief priest and was 
obeyed (II Kings 22: 3-7, 12). The prophets, too, indorsed this 
situation. Except for a few utterances, mainly those of Hosea, 
which may well relate to temporary conditions rather than to the 
monarchy per se, the prophets accept the kings as legitimate offi- 
cials supreme in their sphere. Their demand was only that their 
rule must accord with the will of God. But nowhere do they 
suggest or imply that the hierarchy possesses secular authority to 
rival the monarchy. On the contrary, their stern denunciations of 
priestly veniality and their deprecation of the ritual imply rather 
that, as between king and priest, they would prefer to dispense 
with the latter. Even the legislation in the Book of Deuteronomy, 
which a moment ago we found guilty of marked favoritism toward 
the priests, accepts the kingship as a valid institution. The king 
must obey the law of God; he is to accept as the constitution of the 
state a copy of the Deuteronomic law from that “which is before 
the priests.” But beyond this he rules free of interference from the 

And such is the limit of our evidence. Certainly Israel’s thought 


was less clarified on this than on the issue of popular rights vis-a- 
vis secular rulers. It appears that, subsequent to the popular pro- 
test and action which freed the government from domination by 
Samuel, the priesthood were never again a threat to secular power 
as long as the kingdoms stood. Consequently, the question of 
church and state did not become an issue to provoke thought such 
as Israel’s intellectual leaders exercised elsewhere. It was the acci- 
dent of history, the destruction of the monarchy and the state, and 
then later the unhappy events, whatever their detail may have been, 
which weakened the prestige and power of the Jewish governor in 
the days of Darius I that by consequence elevated the priests into 
de facto leadership and rule of the Palestinian community. The 
theocracy was a natural development from this. The situation was 
a remarkable anticipation of the events through which the Chris- 
tian church centuries later assumed secular power in the city of 
Rome. Nonetheless, the Jewish theocracy, so called, was an aber- 
ration from the true national genius and tradition. Israel had been 
governed by secular rulers chosen, such was orthodox dogma, by 
the Lord himself and commissioned to “shepherd his people Is- 
rael.” Of the supremacy of religious standards and restraints above 
the secular ruler there was no question in Israel’s best thought; but 
until after the collapse of Zerubabbel’s governorship the exercise of 
authority over the state by the priesthood was never a practical 
consideration. Israel, we may say, would have granted the suprem- 
acy of the invisible church, the custodian of the nation’s best social 
achievements and highest idealism; but the visible church was too 
fallibly human to be trusted with so high responsibility. 

The conclusion from our findings already is apparent; if it may 
be compressed into a single phrase, it is the supremacy of Israel’s 
thinking in the ancient East. 

But the astonishing feature of this supremacy is that it was at- 
tained in spite of, or, better, through, the material and military in- 
feriority of the Hebrew people. They were far overshadowed by 
Egypt and Babylon; Assyria trod them down at will. But Israel has 
lived in the faith and thought and conduct of succeeding centuries, 
a heritage that grows ever richer, while her proud contemporaries 
are a faded memory interesting, primarily, to archeologists and 


historians. We have grown somewhat accustomed in recent years 
to a realization of Israel’s literary excellence; in her poetry and 
prose alike she is of the modern world. But it is a much less familiar 
idea that Israel takes by native right her place among the creative 
intellectual peoples of history. In her achievements she stood head 
and shoulders above the best of her oriental contemporaries at 
their highest outreach. Their excellence is that at times they ap- 
proach those attainments where Israel’s thinkers lived and moved 
with the sure confidence of one who treads his native soil. 

But a noteworthy feature is Israel’s obvious and self-conscious 
dependence upon these other cultures. The time has gone when the 
uniqueness of the Old Testament is to be defended by denial of for- 
eign influence in Israel’s achievement. On the contrary, this is the 
glory of Israel. They were no remote and ingrown people; they 
stood at the crossroads of the ancient world, sensitive to all the best 
that was achieved within its limits. They took freely from all; 
their excellence is that they recognized value wherever it arose 
and freely appropriated it as their own. But in the process they 
transformed it. The mark of their distinctive genius is on all that 
they took, so that in the result it is Hebraic; and its dilference 
from its foreign original is more significant than its similarity. 

Yet we do Israel but half-justice if we fail to look also down the 
following centuries. For we have had occasion to remark again and 
again in the course of this discussion the direct indebtedness of the 
modern world to these ancient thinkers. Their basic convictions 
on the ultimate character of the world, their view of the nature and 
place of man, their social ideals, and their political principles have 
become so large a part of our common heritage of today — and that 
in general by an immediate and demonstrable line of descent — that 
with full recognition of the profound contributions of Greece and 
Rome one may well question whether any other nation has so pro- 
foundly influenced the course of human life or has contributed 
comparable impulse to the thought and action of our day. 


Albright, W. F. Frmn the Stone Age to Christimity, chap. v. Baltimore: Johns 
Hopkins Press, 1940. 

Bertholet, a. a History of Hebrew CivUization, '&o6k II. London: Harrap & 
Co., 1926. 


Causse, a. Du Grmfe ethnique a h communaute reiigieuse. Paris: Librairie Felix 
Alcan, 1937, 

EichrodTjW. Theologie des Alien Testaments. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1933-39. 

Feigin, S, L ‘‘Solomon and Adonijah,” in Misskrei Heavar^ pp. 70-82. New 
York: Sepharim, 1943. 

Gaster, T. H. “Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East; A Review Article/’ 
Review of Religions, 19^5, pp. 267-Sl. 

Kennett, R. H. “The Contribution of the Old Testament to the Religious De- 
velopment of Mankind/’ in The People and the Book, pp. 383-402. Oxford, 

Macdonald, D. B. The Hebrew Literary Genius. Princeton: Princeton Univer- 
sity Press, 1933. 

The Hebrew Philosophical Genius. Princeton: Princeton University 

Press, 1936, 

Morgenstern, Julian. “Universalism in Judaism,” Universal Jewish Encyclo- 
pedia, X, 353-57 . 

Noyes, C, The Genius of Israel, chsep. xviii. Boston and New York: Houghton 
Mifflin Co., 1924. 

Pedersen, Johs. Israel, Us Life and Culture. London: Humphrey Milford, 1926. 

Robinson, H. W. “Hebrew Psychology,” in The People and the Book, pp. 353-82. 
Oxford, 1925. 

Smith, Sir George Adam. “The Hebrew Genius as Exhibited in the Old Testa- 
ment,” in The Legacy of Israel, pp. 1-28. Oxford, 1927. 





W HEN we read in Psalm 19 that “the heavens declare the 
glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork,” 
we hear a voice which mocks the beliefs of Egyptians and Baby- 
lonians. The heavens, which were to the psalmist but a witness of 
God’s greatness, were to the Mesopotamians the very majesty of 
godhead, the highest ruler, Anu. To the Egyptians the heavens 
signified the mystery of the divine mother through whom man was 
reborn. In Egypt and Mesopotamia the divine was comprehended 
as immanent: the gods were in nature. The Egyptians saw in the 
sun all that a man may know of the Creator; the Mesopotamians 
viewed the sun as the god Shamash, the guarantor of justice. But 
to the psalmist the sun was God’s devoted servant who “is as a 
bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong 
man to run a race.” The God of the psalmists and the prophets was 
not in nature. He transcended nature — and transcended, likewise, 
the realm of mythopoeic thought. It would seem that the Hebrews, 
no less than the Greeks, broke with the mode of speculation which 
had prevailed up to their time. 

The mainspring of the acts, thoughts, and feelings of early man 
was the conviction that the divine was immanent in nature, and na- 
ture intimately connected with society. Dr. Wilson emphasized 
this fact by calling the Egyptians monophysites. Dr. Jacobsen in- 
dicated that his approach to Mesopotamian thought could not do 
full justice to it; but the myths and beliefs which he discussed re- 
flect it at every turn. And in our first chapter we found that the as- 
sumption of an essential correlation between nature and man pro- 
vided us with a basis for the understanding of mythopoeic thought. 
Its logic, its peculiar structure, was seen to derive from an un- 
ceasing awareness of a live relationship between man and the phe- 
nomenal world. In the significant moments of his life, early man 



was confronted not b7 an inanimate, impersonal nature — ^not by 
an “It”— but by a “Thou.” We have seen that such a relationship 
involved not only man’s intellect but the whole of his being — his 
feeling and his will, no less than his thought. Hence early man 
would have rejected the detachment of a purely intellectual atti- 
tude toward nature, had he been able to conceive it, as inadequate 
to his experience. 

As long as the peoples of the ancient Near East preserved their 
cultural integrity — from the middle of the fourth to the middle of 
the first millennium b.c. — they remained conscious of their close 
bond with nature. And that awareness remained vivid notwith- 
standing the conditions of city life. The efflorescence of civiliza- 
tion in Egypt and Mesopotamia brought with it the need for a divi- 
sion of labor and a diversification of life possible only when people 
congregate in sufficient numbers for some to be freed from preoc- 
cupation with earning a livelihood. But the ancient cities were small 
by our standards, and their inhabitants were not cut off from the 
land. On the contrary, most of them derived their sustenance from 
the surrounding fields; all of them worshiped gods personifying 
natural powers; and all of them participated in rites which marked 
the turning-points in the farmer’s year. In the great metropolis of 
Babylon the outstanding annual event was the New Year’s Festival 
celebrating the renewal of the generative force of nature. In all 
Mesopotamian cities the business of everyday life was interrupted 
several times in the course of each month when the moon com- 
pleted one of its phases or other natural events called for appro- 
priate action on the part of the community. In Egypt, too, the hus- 
bandman’s preoccupations found expression in festivals at Thebes, 
Memphis, and other Egyptian cities where celebrations marked the 
rise of the Nile, the end of the inundation, or the completion of 
the harvest. Thus urban life in no way diminished man’s aware- 
ness of his essential involvement in namre. 

When we accentuate the basic conception of ancient Near East- 
ern thought, as we have just done, we are necessarily obscuring its 
richness and diversity. Within the scope of mythopoeic thought a 
great variety of attitudes and outlooks are possible; and contrast 
as well as variety become apparent when we compare the specu- 
lative myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is true that the same 


natural phenomena were often personified in these two countries and 
that the same images were often used to describe them. Yet the 
mood of the myths and the significance of the images are most un- 

In both countries, for instance, the existing world was believed 
to have emerged from the waters of chaos. In Egypt this primeval 
ocean was male — ^the god Nun. In other words, it was conceived 
as a fertilizing agent, and as such it was a permanent factor in the 
created universe recognized in the subsoil water and in the annual 
flood of the Nile. In Mesopotamia the fertilizing power in water 
was personified as the god Enki or Ea. But he was entirely unre- 
lated to the primordial ocean. This ocean was a female, Ti^amat, 
the mother who brought forth gods and monsters in such profusion 
that her unbounded fruitfulness endangered the very existence of 
the universe. She was killed in combat by Marduk, who formed the 
world from her body. Thus water was significant to both Babylo- 
nians and Egyptians as the source and also as the sustainer of life. 
Yet these conceptions were very differently expressed by the two 

A similar contrast appears in relation to earth. Mesopotamia 
worshiped a beneficial Great Mother whose fertility was seen in 
the produce of the earth and who gained additional religious impor- 
tance by a variety of associations. The earth was viewed as the 
counterpart (and hence the spouse) of Heaven, Anu; or of the 
waters, Enki; or even of Enlil, the kingly storm-god. In Egypt, on 
the other hand, the earth was a male — Geb or Ptah or Osiris: the 
ubiquitous mother-goddess was not connected with the soil. Her 
image was either cast in the primitive and ancient guise of the cow 
or projected on the sky which, as Nut, gave birth to the sun and 
stars each day at dawn and dusk. Moreover, the dead entered her 
body to be reborn as immortals. The sustained Egyptian preoccu- 
pation with death and the hereafter, however, found no equivalent 
in Mesopotamia. On the contrary, death was understood there as 
an almost complete destruction of personality; and man’s chief de- 
sires were for a worthy life and freedom from disease, with a good 
reputation and descendants to survive him; and the sky was not a 
goddess bending over her children but the most unapproachable of 
male gods. 


The differences which we have enumerated do not merely rep- 
resent a meaningless variety of images; they betray a thorough 
contrast between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian views as to the 
nature of the universe in which man lives. Throughout the Mesopo- 
tamian texts we hear overtones of anxiety which seem to express a 
haunting fear that the unaccountable and turbulent powers may at 
any time bring disaster to human society. But in Egypt the gods 
were powerful without being violent. Nature presented itself as an 
established order in which changes were either superficial and in- 
significant or an unfolding in time of what had been preordained 
from the beginning. Moreover, Egyptian kingship guaranteed sta- 
bility to society. For, as Dr. Wilson explained, one of the gods occu- 
pied the throne. Pharaoh was divine, the son and image of the Crea- 
tor. Thus Pharaoh insured a harmonious integration of nature and 
society at all times. Butin Mesopotamia the assembly of the gods as- 
signed a mere mortal to rule men, and the divine favor might at any 
time be withdrawn from him. Man was at the mercy of decisions 
he could neither influence nor gauge. Hence the king and his coun- 
selors watched for portents on earth and in the sky which might re- 
veal a changing constellation of divine grace, so that catastrophe 
might be foreseen and possibly averted. In Egypt neither astrology 
nor prophecy ever developed to any great extent. 

The contrast between the temper of die two countries was con- 
cisely expressed in their creation myths. In Egypt creation was 
viewed as the brilliant act of an omnipotent Creator disposing of 
submissive elements. Of the lasting order which he created, soci- 
ety formed an unchanging part. In Mesopotamia the Creator had 
been chosen by a divine assembly helpless before the threat of the 
powers of chaos. Their champion, Marduk, had followed up his 
victory over these antagonists by the creation of the universe. 
This took place almost as an afterthought, and man was especially 
designed as a servant of the gods. There was no permanence in the 
human sphere. The gods assembled on every New Year’s Day to 
“establish (such) destinies” for mankind as they pleased. 

The differences between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian man- 
ners of viewing the world are very far-reaching. Yet the two peo- 
ples agreed in the fundamental assumptions that the individual is 
part of society, that society is imbedded in nature, and that nature 


is but the manifestation of the divine. This doctrine was, in fact, 
universally accepted by the peoples of the ancient world with the 
single exception of the Hebrews. 

The Hebrews arrived late upon the scene and settled in a country 
pervaded by influences from the two superior adjacent cultures. 
One would expect the newcomers to have assimilated alien modes 
of thought, since these were supported by such vast prestige. Un- 
told immigrants from deserts and mountains had done so in the past; 
and many individual Hebrews did, in fact, conform to the ways of 
the Gentiles. But assimilation was not characteristic for Hebrew 
thought. On the contrary, it held out with a peculiar stubbornness 
and insolence against the wisdom of Israel’s neighbors. It is pos- 
sible to detect the reflection of Egyptian and Mesopotamian beliefs 
in many episodes of the Old Testament; but the overwhelming im- 
pression left by that document is one, not of derivation, but of 

The dominant tenet of Hebrew thought is the absolute tran- 
scendence of God. Yahweh is not in nature. Neither earth nor sun 
nor heaven is divine; even the most potent namral phenomena are 
but reflections of God’s greatness. It is not even possible properly 
to name God: 

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel 
and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and 
they shall say to me: What is his name? what shall I say unto them? 

And God said unto Moses: I AM THAT I AM: and he said. Thus shalt thou 
say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you [Exod. 3 : 13-14]. 

The God of the Hebrews is pure being, unqualified, ineffable. 
He is holy. That means that he is sui generis. It does not mean that 
he is taboo or that he is power. It means that all values are ulti- 
mately attributes of God alone. Hence, all concrete phenomena are 
devaluated. Dr. Irwin has pointed out that in Hebrew thought man 
and namre are not necessarily corrupt; but both are necessarily 
valueless before God. As Eliphaz said to Job (and we use the Chi- 
cago translation) : 

Can a mortal be righteous before God 

Or a man be pure before his Maker? 

Even in his servants he does not trust, 


And his angels he charges with error. 

How much less them that dwell in houses of clay, 

Whose foundation is in the dust .... [Job 4: 17-19^]. 

A similar meaning lies in the words of Deutero-Isaiah (64; 6a): 
“We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as 
filthy rags.” Even man’s righteousness, his highest virtue, is de- 
valuated by the comparison with the absolute. 

In the field of material culture such a conception of God leads to 
iconoclasm; and it needs an effort of the imagination to realize the 
shattering boldness of a contempt for imagery at the time, and in 
the particular historical setting, of the Hebrews. Everywhere reli- 
gious fervor not only inspired verse and rite but also sought plastic 
and pictorial expression. The Hebrews, however, denied the rele- 
vancy of the “graven image”; the boundless could not be given 
form, the unqualified could but be offended by a representation, 
whatever the skill and the devotion that went into its making. 
Every finite reality shriveled to nothingness before the absolute 
value which was God. 

The abysmal difference between the Hebrew and the normal 
Near Eastern viewpoints can best be illustrated by the manner in 
which an identical theme, the instability of the social order, is 
treated. We have a number of Egyptian texts which deal with the 
period of social upheaval which followed the great era of the pyra- 
mid builders. The disturbance of the established order was viewed 
with horror. Neferrohu said: 

I show thee the land in lamentation and distress. The man with a weak arm 
(now) has (a strong) arm. .... I show thee how the undermost is turned to 
uppermost The poor man will acquire riches.^ 

The most famous of the sages, Ipuwer, is even more explicit. For 
instance, he condemns as a disastrous parody* of order the fact that 

gold and lapis lazuli are hung about the necks of slave girls. But noble ladies walk 
through the land and mistresses of houses say: Would that we had something to 

eat Behold they that possessed beds now lie upon the ground. He that 

slept with dirt upon him now stuffeth for himself a cushion. 

The upshot is unmitigated misery for all: ‘‘Nay but great and small 
say : I wish I were dead.”^ 

In the Old Testament we meet the same theme — the reversal of 


established social conditions. When Hannah, after years of barren- 
ness, had prayed for a son, and Samuel was bom, she praised God: 

There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there 
any rock like our God. .... The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they 
that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out them- 
selves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased. .... The Lord maketh poor 
and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the 
dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and 
to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s 
and he hath set the world upon them [I Sam. 2 : 2-8] . 

Notice that the last verses state explicitly that God created the ex- 
isting social order; but, quite characteristically, this order did not 
derive any sacredness, any value, from its divine origin. The sa- 
credness and value remain attributes of God alone, and the violent 
changes of fortune observed in social life are but signs of God’s 
omnipotence. Nowhere else do we meet this fanatical devaluation 
of the phenomena of namre and the achievements of man: art, vir- 
tue, social order — ^in view of the unique significance of the divine. 
It has been rightly pointed out that the monotheism of the He- 
brews is a correlate of their insistence on the unconditioned namre 
of God.® Only a God who transcends every phenomenon, who is 
not conditioned by any mode of manifestation — only an unquali- 
fied God can be the one and only ground of all existence. 

This conception of God represents so high a degree of abstrac- 
tion that, in reaching it, the Hebrews seem to have left the realm 
of mythopoeic thought. The impression that they did so is strength- 
ened when we observe that the Old Testament is remarkably poor 
in mythology of the type we have encountered in Egypt and Meso- 
potamia. But this impression requires correction. The processes of 
mythopoeic thought are decisive for many sections of the Old 
Testament. For instance, the magnificent verses from the Book of 
Proverbs quoted in chapter ix describe the Wisdom of God, per- 
sonified and substantialized in the same manner in which the corre- 
sponding concept of mifat is treated by the Egyptians. Even the 
great conception of an only and transcendent God was not entirely 
free from myth, for it was not the fruit of detached speculation 
but of a passionate and dynamic experience. Hebrew thought did 


not entirely overcome mythopoeic thought. It created, in fact, a 
new myth — the myth of the Will of God. 

Although the great “Thou” which confronted the Hebrews 
transcended nature, it stood in a specific relationship to the people. 
For when they were freed from bondage and roamed in “a desert 
land .... the waste howling wilderness .... the Lord alone did 
lead (them) and there was no strange god with (them)” (Deut. 
32; 10-12). And God had said: 

But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abra- 
ham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called 
thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have 
chosen thee, and not cast thee away [Isa. 41 : 8-9] . 

Thus God’s will was felt to be focused on one particular and con- 
crete group of human beings; it was asserted to have manifested it- 
self at one decisive moment in their history and ceaselessly and re- 
lentlessly to have urged, rewarded, or chastised the people of its 
choice. For in Sinai, God had said, “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom 
of priests and an holy nation” (Exod. 19:6). 

It is a poignant myth, this Hebrew myth of a chosen people, of 
a divine promise made, of a terrifying moral burden imposed — a 
prelude to the later myth of the Kingdom of God, that more re- 
mote and more spiritual “promised land.” For in the myth of the 
chosen people the ineffable majesty of God and the worthlessness 
of man are correlated in a dramatic situation that is to unfold in 
time and is moving toward a future where the distant yet related 
parallels of human and divine existence are to meet in infinity. 

Not cosmic phenomena, but history itself, had here become 
pregnant with meaning; history had become a revelation of the 
dynamic will of God. The human being was not merely the servant 
of the god as he was in Mesopotamia; nor was he placed, as in 
Egypt, at a preordained station in a static universe which did not 
need to be — and, in fact, could not be — questioned. Man, accord- 
ing to Hebrew thought, was the interpreter and the servant of 
God; he was even honored with the task of bringing about the reali- 
zation of God’s will. Thus man was condemned to unending ef- 
forts which were doomed to fail because of his inadequacy. In the 
Old Testament we find man possessed of a new freedom and of a 


new burden of responsibility. We also find there a new and utter 
lack of eudaimmk, of harmony — ^whether with the world of reason 
or with the world of perception. 

All this may help to explain the strange poignancy of single in- 
dividuals in the Old Testament. Nowhere in the literature of Egypt 
or Babylonia do we meet the loneliness of the biblical figures, aston- 
ishingly real in their mixture of ugliness and beauty, pride and con- 
trition, achievement and failure. There is the tragic figure of Saul, 
the problematical David; there are countless others. We find single 
men in terrible isolation facing a transcendent God: Abraham 
trudging to the place of sacrifice with his son, Jacob in his struggle, 
and Moses and the prophets. In Egypt and Mesopotamia man was 
dominated, but also supported, by the great rhythm of namre. If 
in his dark moments he felt himself caught and held in the net of 
unfathomable decisions, his involvement in nature had, on the 
whole, a soothing character. He was gently carried along on die 
perennial cosmic tides of the seasons. The depth and intimacy of 
man’s relationship with nature found expression in the ancient 
symbol of the mother-goddess. But Hebrew thought ignored this 
image entirely. It only recognized the stem Father, of whom it 
was said: “he led him (Jacob, the people) about, he instructed him, 
he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deut. 32:10^) . 

The bond between Yahweh and his chosen people had been final- 
ly established during the Exodus. The Hebrews considered the 
forty years in the desert the decisive phase in their development. 
And we, too, may understand the originality and the coherence of 
their speculations if we relate them to their experience in the desert. 

The reader will ranember that preceding chapters took great 
care to describe the Egyptian and Mesopotamian landscapes. In 
doing so, the authors did not succumb to an unwarranted namral- 
ism; they did not claim that cultural phenomena could be derived 
from physiographical causes. They merely suggested that a re- 
lation between land and culture may exist, a suggestion we can 
accept the more readily since we have seen that the surrounding 
world confronted early man as a “Thou.” We may ask, then, what 
was the namral setting which determined the Hebrew’s experience 
of the world around him. Now, the Hebrews, whatever their an- 
cestry and historical antecedents, were tribal nomads. And since 


they were nomads in the Near East, they must have hved, not in 
boundless steppes, but between the desert and the sown, between 
the most fertile of lands and the total negation of life which, in 
this remarkable corner of the earth, he cheek by jowl. They must, 
therefore, have known through experience both the reward and the 

cost of existence in either. , r -i i • n ► 

The Hebrews craved to settle for good in the fertile plains. But 
characteristically they dreamed of lands overflowing with_milk 
and honey, not lands of superabundant crops like those the Egyp- 
tians imagined for their hereafter. It seems that the desert as u 
metaphysical experience loomed very large for the Hebrews and 
colored all their valuations. It is, perhaps, the tension between wo 
valuations— beween a desire and a contempt for what is desired 
—that may explain some of the paradoxes of ancient Hebrew be- 

The organized states of the ancient Near East were agricultural, 
but the values of an agricultural community are the opposites of 
diose of the nomadic tribe, especially of the extreine type of no- 
mads of the desert. The settled peasant’s reverence for impersonal 
authority, and the bondage, the constraint which the orgamzed 
state imposes, mean an intolerable lack of personal freedc^ tor 
the tribesman. The farmer’s everlasting preoccupation with phe- 
nomena of growth and his total dependence on these phenomena 
appear to the nomad a form of slavery .^Moreover, to him the des- 
ert is clean, but the scene of life, which is also the scene of decay, is 

sordid. , , 

On the other hand, nomadic freedom can be bought only at a 
price; for whoever rejects the complexities and mutual depend- 
^cie’s of agricultural society not only pins freedom but also loses 
the bond with the phenomenal world; in fact, he gains his freedom 
at the cost of significant form. For, wherever we find reverence for 
the phenomena of life and growth, we find preoccupation with the 
i ’ immanence of the divine and with Re form of its mamfestauon. 

, But in the stark solitude of the desert, where nothing changes, noth- 
ing moves (except man at his own free will), where features in the 
landscape are only pointers, landmarks, without significance in 
! themselves— there we may expect the image of God to transcend 
concrete phenomena altogether. Man confronting God will not 


contemplate him but will hear his voice and command, as Moses 
did, and the prophets, and Mohammed. 

When we compared the lands of origin of Hebrews, Egyptians, 
and Mesopotamians, we were concerned, not with the relation be- 
tween group psychology and habitat, but with profound differences 
in pristine religious experience. The peculiar experience which we 
have just described seems characteristic for ail the most significant 
figures of the Old Testament. It is important to realize this, not be- 
cause it enables us to understand them better as individuals, but 
because we then recognize what colored and integrated their 
thought. They propounded, not speculative theory, but revolution- 
ary and dynamic teaching. The doctrine of a single, unconditioned, 
transcendent God rejected time-honored values, proclaimed new 
ones, and postulated a metaphysical significance for history and for 
man’s actions. With infinite moral courage the Hebrews wor- 
shiped an absolute God and accepted as the correlate of their faith 
the sacrifice of a harmonious existence. In transcending the Near 
Eastern myths of immanent godhead, they created, as we have 
seen, the new myth of the will of God. It remained for the Greeks, 
with their pecuhar intellectual courage, to discover a form of specu- 
lative thought in which myth was entirely overcome. 

In the sixth century b.c. the Greeks, in their great cities on the 
coast of Asia Minor, were in touch with all the leading centers of 
the civilized world: Egypt and Phoenicia; Lydia, Persia, and 
Babylon. There can be no doubt that this contact played some part 
in the meteoric development of Greek culmre. But it is impossible 
to estimate the Greek indebtedness to the ancient Near East. As 
is usual when cultural contact is truly fruftful, simple derivations 
are rare. What the Greeks borrowed, they transmuted. 

In the Greek mystery religions we meet well-known oriental 
themes. Demeter was the sorrowing mother-goddess searching for 
her child; Dionysus died a violent death but was resurrected. In 
some of the rites the participants experienced an immediate rela- 
tionship with the divine in nature; and in this respect there is sim- 
ilarity with the ancient Near East. But it would be hard to find 
antecedents for the individual salvation vouchsafed to the initiates. 
A possible parallel would be the Osiris cult; but, as far as we know. 


the Egyptian did not undergo an initiation or share the god’s fate 
dur in g his lifetime. In any case, the Greek mysteries show several 
features which were wirfiout precedent. These generally amount 
to a diminished distance between men and gods. The initiate of the 
Orphic mysteries, for instance, not only hoped to be liberated from 
the “wheel of births” but actually emerged as a god from his union 
with the mother-goddess, “queen of the dead.” The Orphic myths 
contain speculations about the nature of man which are character- 
istically Greek in their tenor. It was said that the Titans had de- 
voured Dionysus-Zagreus and were therefore destroyed by the 
lightning of Zeus, who made man from their ashes. Man, in so far as 
he consists of the substance of the Titans, is evil and ephemeral; 
but since the Titans had partaken of a god’s body, man contains a 
divine and immortal spark. Such dualism and the recognition of an 
immortal part in man are unknown in the ancient Near East outside 

It is not only in the mystery religions that the Greeks placed 
man closer to the gods than the Egyptians or Babylonians had ever 
done. Greek literature names many women who had gods for 
lovers and bore them children, and it has been pointed out that the 
typical sinner in Greece was the man who had attempted to do vio- 
lence to a goddess.^ Moreover, the Olympian gods, though they 
were manifest in nature, had not made the universe and could not 
dispose of man as their creature with the same unquestioned right 
of ownership which the ancient Near Eastern gods exercised. In 
fact, the Greek claimed a common ancestry with the gods and, 
consequently, suffered the more acutely because of his own dis- 
abilities. Pindar’s Sixth Nemean Ode, for instance, starts as fol- 

Of one race, one only, are men and gods. Both of one mother’s womb we draw 
our breath; but far asunder is aU our power divided, and fences us apart; here 
there is nothingness, and there, in strength of bronze, a seat unshaken, eternal, 
abides the heaven. [After Comford.] 

The spirit of such poetry differs profoundly from that of the an- 
cient Near East, even though, at this time, Greece still shared many 
beliefs with the Orient, The common mother of gods and men to 
whom Pindar refers is Gaea, the earth; and the earth, as Ninhur- 


saga, was often regarded as the Great Mother in Mesopotamia. 
Homer still knew of the primeval waters: “Okeanos from whom 
the gods are sprung.”® Yet more important than such echoes of 
Near Eastern beliefs is the similarity between the Greek and the 
oriental methods of interpreting nature: an ordered view of the uni- 
verse was obtained by bringing its elements in a genealogical re- 
lationship with one another. In Greece this procedure found monu- 
mental expression in Hesiod’s Theogeny, written probably about 
700 B.c. Hesiod starts his account with Chaos and proclaims Sky 
and Earth the parents of gods and men. He introduces numerous 
personifications which recall Egyptian mc(^at or the “Wisdom of 
God” in the Book of Proverbs. “ . . . . Next he (Zeus) wedded 
bright Themis who bare the Horai, even Eunomia (Good Govern- 
ment) and Dike (Justice) and blooming Eirene (Peace) who care 
for the works of mortal man” (11. 901-3) 

Associations and “participations” t 5 rpical of mythopoeic 
thought appear often. A particularly clear example is: “And 
Night bare hateful Doom; and black Fate and Death and Sleep she 
bare, and she bare the tribe of dreams; all these did dark Night 
bare, albeit mated unto none” (11. 21 1 ff.) . The natural process of 
procreation thus supplied Hesiod with a scheme which allowed 
him to connect the phenomena and to arrange them in a compre- 
hensible system. The Babylonian Epic of Creation and the An- 
Anum list use the same device; and we meet it in Egypt when 
Atum is said to have begotten Shu and Tefnut (Air and Moismre) , 
who, in their turn, brought forth Geb and Nut (Earth and Sky). 

And yet Hesiod is without oriental precedent in one respect; the 
gods and the universe were described by him as a matter of private 
interest. Such freedom was unheard of in the Near East, except 
among the Hebrews, where Amos, for instance, was a herdsman. 
In Egypt and Mesopotamia religious subjects were treated by 
members of the established hierarchy. But Hesiod was a Boeotian 
farmer called by the Muses, “which time he tended his flocks un- 
der holy Helicon.” He says : “ (The Muses) breathed in me a voice 
divine that I might celebrate the things that shall be and the things 
that were aforetime. They bade me sing the race of the Blessed 
Ones that are forever” (11. 29 IF.), Thus a Greek layman recog- 


nized his vocation and became a singer who took the gods and na- 
ture as his theme, although he continued to use the traditional 
forms of epic poetry. 

The same freedom, the same unconcern as regards special func- 
tion and hierarchy, is characteristic for the Ionian philosophers 
who lived a century or more after Hesiod. Thales seems to have 
been an engineer and statesman; Anaximander, a mapmaker. 
Cicero stated: “Almost all those whom the Greeks called the 
Seven Sages, you will see to have been engaged in public life” 
(De Rep. i. 7). These men, then, in contrast to the priests of the 
Near East, were not charged by their communities to concern them- 
selves with spiritual matters. They were moved by their own de- 
sire for an understanding of nature; and they did not hesitate to 
publish their findings, although they were not professional seers. 
Their curiosity was as lively as it was unhampered by dogma. 
Like Hesiod, the Ionian philosophers gave their attention to the 
problem of origins; but for them it assumed an entirely new char- 
acter. The origin, the dpxi^, which they sought was not understood 
in the terms of myth. They did not describe an ancestral divinity 
or a progenitor. They did not even look for an “origin” in the 
sense of an initial condition which was superseded by subsequent 
states of being. The lonians asked for an immanent and lasting 
ground of existence. ’Apxs? means “origin,” not as “beginning,” 
but as “sustaining principle” or “first cause.” 

This change of viewpoint is breath-taking. It transfers the prob- 
lems of man in namre from the realm of faith and poetic intuition 
to the intellectual sphere. A critical appraisal of each theory, and 
hence a continuous inquiry into the nature of reality, became pos- 
sible. A cosmogonic myth is beyond discussion. It describes a se- 
quence of sacred events, which one can either accept or reject. 
But no cosmogony can become part of a progressive and cumula- 
tive increase of knowledge. As we said in our first chapter, myth 
claims recognition by the faithful, not justification before the criti- 
cal. But a sustaining principle or first cause must be comprehen- 
sible, even if it was first discovered in a flash of insight. It does not 
pose the alternative of acceptance or rejection. It may be analyzed, 
modified, or corrected. In short, it is subject to intellectual judg- 


Yet the doctrines of the early Greek philosophers are not 
couched in the language of detached and systematic reflection. 
Their sayings sound rather like inspired oracles. And no wonder, 
for these men proceeded, with preposterous boldness, on an entire- 
ly unproved assumption. They held that the universe is an intelli- 
gible whole. In other words, they presumed that a single order un- 
derlies the chaos of our perceptions and, furthermore, that we are 
able to comprehend that order. 

The speculative courage of the lonians is often overlooked. 
Their teachings were, in fact, predestined to be misunderstood by 
modem— or rather, nineteenth-cenmry — scholars. When Thales 
proclaims water to be the first cause, or Anaximenes air; when 
Anaximander speaks of the “Boundless,” and Heraclitus of fire; 
when, moreover, Democritus’ theory of atoms can be considered 
the outcome of these earlier speculations; then we need not be as- 
tonished that commentators in a positivistic age unwittingly read 
familiar connotations into the quasi-materialist doctrines of the 
lonians and regarded these earliest philosophers as the first scien- 
tists. No bias could more insidiously disfigure the greatness of the 
Ionian achievement. The materialist interpretation of their teach- 
ings takes for granted what was to be discovered only as a result of 
the labors of these ancient thinkers — the distinction between the 
objective and the subjective. And only on the basis of this distinc- 
tion is scientific thought possible. 

In actual fact the lonians moved in a curious borderland. They 
forefelt the possibility of establishing an intelligible coherence in 
the phenomenal world; yet they were still under the spell of an 
undissolved relationship between man and nature. And so we re- 
main somewhat uncertain of the exact connotations of the Ionian 
sayings which have been preserved. Thales, for instance, said that 
water was the apxi, the first principle or cause of all things; but 
he also said: “All things are full of gods. The magnet is alive for 
it has the power of moving iron.”’^ Anaximenes said: “Just as our 
soul, being air, holds us together, so do breath and air encompass 
the whole world.” 

It is clear that Anaximenes did not consider air merely as a phys- 
ical substance, although he did consider it, among other things, a 
substance whose properties changed when it was either condensed 


or rarefied. But at the same time air was mysteriously connected 
with the maintenance of life itself: it was an agent of vitality. 
Anaximenes recognized in air something variable enough to make 
it seem possible to interpret the most diverse phenomena as its man- 
ifestations. Thales had preferred water, but he, too, did not con- 
sider his first cause merely as a neutral, colorless liquid. We must 
remember that seeds and bulbs and the eggs of insects lie lifeless in 
the rich soil of Eastern Mediterranean lands until the rains come — 
remember, also, the preponderant role of watery substances in the 
processes of conception and birth in the animal kingdom. It is pos- 
sible that the ancient oriental view of water as a fertilizing agent 
had retained its validity for Thales. It is equally possible that he 
indorsed the oriental conception of a primeval ocean from which 
all life came forth. Homer, as we have seen, called Okeanos the 
origin of gods and men. Thales’ pupil, Anaximander, stated ex- 
plicitly: “the living creatures came forth from the moist ele- 
ment.” There are many other symbolic meanings which we can 
impute to Thales’ theory; for, after all, the sea exercises its magic 
even today. Thus it has been supposed (by Joel) that Thales re- 
garded the sea as the epitome of change, as many poets since have 

Now to claim, on any or all of these analogies, that water is the 
first cause of all things is to argue in the manner of mythopoeic 
thought. But observe chat Thales speaks of water, not of a water- 
god; Anaximenes refers to air, not to a god of air or storms. Here 
lies the astonishing novelty of their approach. Even though “all 
things are full of gods,” these men attempt to understand the co- 
herence of the things. When Anaximenes explains that air is the 
first cause, “just as our soul, being air, holds us together,” he con- 
tinues to specify how air can function as such a sustaining principle: 
“It [air] differs in different substances in virtue of its rarefaction 
and condensation.” Or* even more specifically: 

When it [air] is dilated so as to be rarer it becomes fire; while winds, on the 
other hand, are condensed air. Cloud is formed from air by felting; and this, still 
further condensed, becomes water. Whter, condensed still more, turns to earth; 
and when condensed as much as it can be, to stones. 

There is nowhere a precedent for this type of argument. It 
shows a twofold originality. In the first place, early Greek philoso- 


phy (in Comford’s words) “ignored with astonishing boldness the 
prescriptive sanctities of religious representation.”® Its second 
characteristic is a passionate consistency. Once a theory is adopted, 
it is followed up to its ultimate conclusion irrespective of conflicts 
with observed facts or probabilities. Both of these characteristics 
indicate an implicit recognition of the autonomy of thought; they 
also emphasize the intermediate position of early Greek philoso- 
phy. The absence of personification, of gods, sets it apart from 
mythopoeic thought. Its disregard for the data of experience in its 
pursuit of consistency distinguishes it from later thought. Its hy- 
potheses were not induced from systematic observations but were 
much more in the nature of inspired conjectures or divinations by 
which it was attempted to reach a vantage point where the phe- 
nomena would reveal their hidden coherence. It was the unshakable 
conviction of the lonians, Pythagoreans, and early Eleatics that such 
a vantage point existed; and they searched for the road toward it, 
not in the manner of scientists, but in that of conquistadors. 

Anaximander, a pupil of Thales, made an important new ad- 
vance. He realized that the sustaining principle of all determinate 
phenomena could not be itself determinate. The ground of all ex- 
istence had to be essentially different from the elements of actual- 
ity; it had to be erepa another nature — ^while yet contain- 

ing all contrasts and specific qualities. Anaximander called the 
apxh the aireipov, the “Infinite” or “Boundless.” It is reported by 
Theophrastos that Anaximander “said that the material cause and 

first elmient of things was the Infinite He says it is neither 

water nor any other of the so-called elements but a substance dif- 
ferent from them which is infinite, from which arise all the heavens 
and the worlds within them.”® Notice that Anaximander submits 
to the substantializing tendency of mythopoeic thought by calling 
the SiTupov a substance — or, in the following quotation, a body: 
“He did not ascribe the origin of things to any alteration in matter, 
but said that the oppositions in the substratum, which was a 
boundless body, were separated out.” 

The opposites which Anaximander found in actuality were the 
traditional ones: warm and cold, moist and dry. When he stated 
that these opposites “separated out” from the Boundless, he did 
not refer (as we would expect) to a mechanistic process. He put 


it as follows; “And into that from which things take their rise 
they pass away once more, as is meet; for they make reparation 
and satisfaction to one another for their injustice according to the 
ordering of time.” In the winter, cold commits an injustice to heat, 
etc. Again we meet the marvelous blend of imaginative, emotional, 
and intellectual vigor which was characteristic of the sixth and 
fifth centuries b.c. in Greece. Even that most abstract of notions, 
the Boundless itself, is described by Anaximander as “eternal and 
ageless” — Mdmros Kal cLyfjpios — ^words which serve as a stock 
phrase in Homer to characterize the gods. Yet Anaximander, like 
Thales and Anaximenes, describes the universe in purely secular 
terms. We happen to know a good deal of his cosmography. Let 
us quote, as characteristic samples, his statement that “the earth 
swings free, held in its place by nothing. It stays where it is be- 
cause of its equal distance from everything.” The heavenly bodies 
are described as “wheels of fire”: “And there are breathing-holes, 
certain pipe-like passages, at which the heavenly bodies show 
themselves.” Thunder and lightning are blasts of the winds — a 
theory broadly parodied in Aristophanes’ clouds — and, as to living 
beings, we find this curious anticipation of phylogenetics: “Living 
creatures arose from the moist element as it was evaporated by the 
sun. Man was like another animal, namely, a fish in the beginning.” 
Again, Anaximander presents a curious hybrid of empirical and 
mythopoeic thought. But in his recognition that the ground of all 
determinate existence could not itself be determinate, in his claim 
that not water nor air nor any other “element” but only the 
“Boundless” from which all opposites “separated out,” could be 
the he showed a power of abstraction beyond anything known 

before his day. 

With Heraclitus of Ephesus philosophy found its locus standi. 
“Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all 
things are steered through all things.”^® Here, for the first time, 
attention is centered, not on the thing known, but on the knowing 
of it. Thought, 'fvispri (which may also be translated “judgment,” 
or “understanding”), controls the phenomena as it constitutes the 
thinker. The problem of understanding nature is moved once more 
to a new plane. In the ancient Near East it had remained within the 
sphere of myth. The Milesian school of philosophers had moved 


it to the realm of the intellect in that they claimed the universe to 
be an intelligible whole. The manifold was to be understood as de- 
riving from a sustaining principle or first cause, but this was to be 
looked for in the phenomena. The question of how we can know 
what is outside us was not raised. Heraclitus asserted that the uni- 
verse was intelligible because it was ruled by “thought” or “judg- 
ment” and that the same principle, therefore, governed both ex- 
istence and knowledge. He was conscious that this wisdom sur- 
passed even the loftiest conception of Greek mythopoeic thought: 
“The wise is one only. It is unwilling and willing to be called by 
the name of Zeus.”“ 

Heraclitus calls this wisdom Logos, a term so heavily laden with 
associations as to be an embarrassment whether we translate it or 
not. “Reason” is perhaps the least objectionable rendering. “It is 
wise to hearken, not to me, but to the Logos and to confess that 
all things are one.”^^ All things are one. Things that are distinct 
from one another, or qualities that are each other’s opposites, have 
no permanent existence. They are but transitory stages in a per- 
peraal flux. No static description of the universe is true. “Being” 
is but “becoming.” The cosmos is but the dynamics of existence. 
The opposites which Anaximander saw “separating out” from the 
Boundless are for Heraclims united by a tension which causes each 
of them ultimately to change into its opposite. “Men do not know 
how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement 
(ap/xovia) of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.”^® 

But if the universe changes continually according to the tensions 
between opposites, it is senseless to ask for its origin in the manner 
of myth. There is no beginning and no end; there is only existence. 
Heraclitus states magnificently: “This world (kSctpxxs) which is 
the same for all, no one of the gods or men has made; but it was 
ever, is now, and ever shall be an ever-living fire, with measures of 
it kindling, and measures going out.”^^ Fire is the symbol for a 
universe in flux between tensional opposites . As Burnet says : 
“The quantity of fire in a flame burning steadily appears to re- 
main the same, the flame seems to be what we call a ‘thing.’ And 
yfet the substance of it is continually changing. It is always passing 
away in smoke, and its place is always taken by fresh matter from 
the fuel that feeds it.”^® 


Heraelitus takes pains to stress that it is only the total process 
that is lasting and, hence, significant: “The way up and the way 
down is one and the same,”^® or “it rests by changing, or, more 
metaphorically, “fire is want and surfeit,”^® or one “cannot step 
twice in the same river, for fresh waters are forever flowing in 
upon you.”^® 

No momentary phase in this perpetual change is more impor- 
tant then any other; all opposites are transitory: “Fire lives the 
death of air and air lives the death of fire; water lives the death of 
earth, earth that of water.”®® This fragment might startle us, for 
here fire appears as one of the “elements” on a par with earth, air, 
and water; and we would seem to be back on the level of Thales 
and Anaximenes. Heraclitus is using fire here as one of the tradi- 
tional four elements in order to insist on the impermanence of the 
distinction among them. In another fragment the emergence and 
resorption of all determinate things in the one lasting flux of 
change is expressed as follows: “All things are an exchange for 
fire and fire for all things, even as wares for gold and gold for 
wares.”®^ Here the symbolical significance of fire is obvious. 

In the writing of Heraclitus, to a larger degree than ever before, 
the images do not impose their burden of concreteness but are en- 
tirely subservient to the achievement of clarity and precision. 
Even for Thales and Anaximenes, water and air are no mere con- 
stituents of the material world; they also possess a symbolical 
connotation, if only as agents of vitality. But for Heraclitus fire 
is purely a symbol of reality in flux; he calls wisdom “to know 
the thought by which all things are steered through all things.” 

Heraclitus gives the sharpest and profoundest expression to the 
Ionian postulate that the universe is an intelligible whole. It is in- 
telligible, since thought steers all things. It is a w'hole, since it is a 
perpetual flux of change. Yet in this form the doctrine retains one 
contradiction. Mere change and flux cannot be intelligible, for 
they achieve not cosmos but chaos. Heraclitus solved this diffi- 
culty by recognizing in the flux of change an inherent dominant 
measure. We remember that the world was “an ever-living fire, 
with measures of it kindling and measures going out.” The con- 
tinuous transition of everything into its opposite was regulated by 
this measure. It was, as we have also seen, “an attunement of op- 


posite tensions, like that of the bow and of the lyre.” For this 
reason Heraclitus rejected the doctrine of Anaximander according 
to which the opposites had to make reparation to one another for 
their injustice. lie held that it was in the nature of things that they 
should be continually replaced by their opposites: 

Wc must know that war is common to all and strife is justice and that all 
things come into being and pass away (?) through strife.*^ 

War is the father of all and the king of all, and some he has made gods and 
some men, some bond and some free.^ 

Homer was wrong in saying “Wsuld that strife might perish from among 
gods and men.” He did not see that he was praying for the destruction of the uni- 
verse, for, if his prayer were heard, all things would pass away.^^ 

Heraclitus did not mean to equate existence with a blind con- 
flict of opposing forces, but he called war the dynamics of existence 
which necessarily involved “the hidden attunement (which) is 
better than the open.”^® This attunement is of the essence of ex- 
istence; it is valid in the same manner in which we claim the laws 
of nature to be valid: “The sun will not overstep his measures; if 
he does the Erinyes, the handmaids of justice, will find him out.”^® 
This reference to the sun indicates, perhaps, that the regularity of 
the movements of the heavenly bodies suggested to Heraclitus that 
all change was subject to a “hidden attunement.” If this surmise 
were correct, it would link him appropriately with both mytho- 
poeic and Platonic thought. 

The philosophy of Heraclitus shows both parallels and con- 
trasts to that of his older contemporary Pythagoras. According to 
Pythagoras, also, a hidden measure dominated all the phenomena. 
But, while Heraclitus was satisfied with proclaiming its existence, 
the Pythagoreans were anxious to determine it quantitatively. 
They believed a knowledge of essentials to be a knowledge of 
numbers, and they attempted to discover the immanent proportion- 
ality of the existing world. The starting-point for their enterprise 
was a remarkable discovery by Pythagoras. Measuring the lengths 
on the string of the lyre between the places where the four principal 
notes of the Greek scale were sounded, he found that they had the 
proportion 6:8:12. This harmonic proportion contains the octave 
(12:6), the fifth (12:8), and the fourth (8:6). If we attempt to re- 


gard the discovery naively, we shall admit that it is astonishing. 
It correlates musical harmonies, which belong to the world of the 
spirit no less than to that of sensual perception, with the precise 
abstractions of numerical ratios. It seemed legitimate for the Py- 
thagoreans to expect that similar correlations would be discovered; 
and, with the truly Greek passion for following up a thought to its 
ultimate consequences, they maintained that certain arithmetical 
proportions explained every facet of actuality. Heraclitus said 
contemptuously: “The learning of many things teacheth not un- 
derstanding, else it would have taught Hesiod and Pythagoras.”^’' 
Moreover, the Pythagoreans were far from sharing Heraclitus’ 
views. While he had said proudly, “I have sought for myself,”^* 
the Pythagoreans indorsed much traditional lore. While Hera- 
clitus stat^ that all being was but a becoming, the Pythagoreans 
accepted the reality of the opposites and shared the common pref- 
erence for tlie light, static, and unified aspects of existence, as- 
signing the dark, the changing, and the manifold to the side of evil. 
Their dualism, their belief in the transmigration of souls, and their 
hope of liberation from the “wheel of births” connected the Py- 
thagorean doctrine with Orphism. In fact, the teachings of Pythag- 
oras belong preponderantly to the sphere of mythopoeic thought. 
This can be explained if we remember his orientation. Pythagoras 
was not concerned with knowledge for its own sake; he did not 
share the detached curiosity of the lonians. He taught a way of 
life. The Pythagorean society was a religious fraternity striving 
for the sanctification of its members. In this, too, it resembled the 
Orphic societies; but its god was Apollo, not Dionysus; its method 
comprehension, not rapture. For the Pythagoreans, knowledge 
was part of the art of living; and living was seeking for salvation. 
We saw in the first chapter that man, when thus involved with the 
whole of his being, cannot achieve intellectual detachment. There- 
fore, Pythagorean thought is steeped in myth. Yet it was a member 
of the Pythagorean society, who after his apostasy, destroyed the 
last hold of myth on thought. This man was Parmenides, the found- 
er of the Eleatic School. 

Parmenides once more interpreted the Ionian postulate that the 
world forms an intelligible whole. But, as Burnet puts it, “he 
showed once and for all that if you take the One seriously you are 


! bound to deny everything else.”^® Parmenides saw that not only 

each theory of origin, but even each theory of change or movement, 
made the concept of being problematical. Absolute being cannot be 
conceived as coming into existence out of a state of nonexistence. 

How, then, can what w be going to be in the future? Or how could it come into 
; being? If it came into being, it is not; nor is it, if it is going to be in the future. 

I Thus is becoming extinguished and passing away not to be heard of.®” 

Parmenides’ conclusion that this is so is a purely logical one, and 
hence we may say that the autonomy of thought was definitely es- 
j tablished by him. We have seen that Heraclitus went far in this 

I direction, claiming the congruity of truth and existence when he 

: said: “Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all 

! things are steered through all things.” 

: When Parmenides restated this thesis, he eliminated the last 

vestige of mythical concreteness and imagery which had survived 
in the “steered” of Heraclitus’ saying and also in his symbol of 
, fire. Parmenides said: “The thing that can be thought, and that 

I for the sake of which the thought exists, is the same; for you can- 

not find thought without something that is, as to which it is ut- 
tered.”®^ But since Parmenides considered “becoming extinguished 
and passing away not to be heard of,” he assumed an entirely new 
position. The Milesians had attempted to correlate being (as the 
static ground of existence) and becoming (observed in the phenom- 
ena). Heraclims had declared being a perpemal becoming and had 
correlated the two concepts with his “hidden attunement.” Now 
Parmenides declared the two to be mutually exclusive, and only 
to be real. 

Come now, I will tell thee — and do thou hearken to my saying and carry it 
away — the only two ways of search that can be thought of. The first, namely, 
that It is, and that it is impossible for it not to be, is the way of conviction,®” for 
truth is its companion. The other, namely, that It is not, and that it must needs not 
be — that, I tell thee, is a path that none can learn of at all. For thou canst not know 
what is not — that is impossible — nor utter it; for it is the same thing that can be 
thought and that can be.®® 

And again : 

One path only is left for us to speak of, namely, that It is. In this path are very 
many tokens that what is is uncreated and indestructible; for it is complete, im- 
movable and without end. Nor was it ever, nor will it be; for now it is, all at once, 

I : 


a continuous one. For what origin for it wilt thou look for? In what way and from 
what source could it have drawn its increase ?....! shall not let thee say nor 
think that it came from what is not; for it can neither be thought nor uttered that 
anything is not.®^ 

Here, in what Parmenides calls “the unshaken heart of well- 
rounded truth,” we meet a philosophical absolute that reminds us of 
the religious absolute of the Old Testament. In the strictly ideal- 
istic position of Parmenides the autonomy of thought is vinicated, 
and every concrescence of myth is stripped off. Yet Parmenides is 
strongly connected with his predecessors in one respect. In his de- 
nial of the reality of movement, change, and distinctiveness, he 
reached a conclusion which, like theirs, was oddly at variance with 
the data of experience. He was aware of this and appealed to reason 
in defiance of the testimony of the senses; “But do thou restrain 
thy thought from this way of inquiry, nor let habit by its much ex- 
perience force thee to cast upon this way a wandering eye or 
sounding ear or tongue; but judge by reason®® the much disputed 
proof uttered by me.”®® 

This same attitude was, implicitly or explicitly, adopted by all 
Greek thinkers of the sixth and fifth centuries b.c. For neither their 
basic assumption — that the world is an intelligible whole — nor 
their further explanation — that it unfolds in opposites — nor any of 
their other theses can be proved by logic or by experiment or by 
observation. With conviction they propounded theories which re- 
sulted from intuitive insight and which were elaborated by deduc- 
tive reasoning. Each system was based upon an assumption held to 
be true and made to bear a structure erected without fiirther refer- 
ence to empirical data. Consistency was valued more highly than 
probability. This fact in itself shows that throughout early Greek 
philosophy reason is acknowledged as the highest arbiter, even 
tJiough the Logos is not mentioned before Heraclitus and Parmeni- 
des. It is this tacit or outspoken appeal to reason, no less than the 
independence from “the prescriptive sanctities of religion,” which 
places early Greek philosophy in the sharpest contrast with the 
thought of the ancient Near East. 

As we have said before, the cosmologies of mythopoeic thought 
are basically revelations received in a confrontation with a cosmic 
“Thou.” And one cannot argue about a revelation; it transcends 


reason. But in the systems of the Greeks the human mind recog- 
nizes its own. It may take back what it created or change or de- 
velop it. This is true even of the Milesian philosophies, although 
they have not entirely shed the concrescence of myth. It is patently 
true of the doctrine of Heraclitus, which established the sovereign- 
ty of thought, rejected Anaximander and Pythagoras, and pro- 
claimed an absolute becoming. It is equally true of the teaching of 
Parmenides, who confounded Heraclitus and proclaimed an ab- 
solute being. 

One question remains to be answered. If mythopoeic thought 
took shape in an undissolved relationship between man and nature, 
what became of that relationship when thought was emancipated? 
We may answer his question with a quotation to balance the one 
with which we began this chapter. We saw that in Psalm 19 na- 
ture appears bereaved of divinity before an absolute God: “The 
heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his 
handiwork.’’ And we read in Plato’s Ttmaeus^ in Jowett’s transla- 
tion (47r): 

.... had we never seen the stars, and the sun, and the heaven, none of the 
words which we have spoken about the universe would ever have been uttered. 
But now the sight of day and night, and the months and the revolutions of the 
years, have created number, and have given us a conception of time; and the 
power of enquiring about the nature of the universe; and from this source we 
have derived philosophy, than which no greater good ever was or will be given 
by the gods to mortal man. 


1. Blackman’s translation of Erman, Literature of the Egyptians^ p. 115. 

2. After Blackman, pp. 94 ff. 

3 . Johannes Hehn, Die biblische und die babylonisehe Gottesidee (1913), p. 284. 

4. F. M. Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy (London, 1912), 119-20. 

, , . xiv. 201, 241. 

6. This and the following quotations are taken from A. W. Mair, Hesiod, the 

Poems and Fragments {Oxford: QhiQndon Press, 1908). 

7. This and the following quotations are taken from J. Burnet, Early Greek Phi- 
losophy (4th ed.; London, 1930). 

8. Cambridge Ancient History, W, 

9. Burnet, op. cit, p. 52. 

10. Burnet, Frag. 19. 


11. Bomet, Frag. 65. This statement gains in pregnancy if we remember that 
Heraclitus was a contemporary of Aeschylus. 

12. Burnet, Frag. 1. Burnet translates *‘my word.” 

13. Burnet, Frag. 45. 

14. Burnet, Frag. 20. 

15. Op, cit,^ p. 145. 

16. Burnet, Frag, 69. 

17. Burnet, Frag. 83. 

18. Burnet, Frag. 24. 

19. Burnet, Frags. 41-42. 

20. Burnet, Frag. 25. , 

21. Burnet, Frag. 22. 

22. Burnet, Frag. 62. 

23. Burnet, Frag. 44. 

24. Burnet, Frag. 43. 

25. Burnet, Frag. 47. 

26. Burnet, Frag. 29. 

27. Burnet, Frag. 16. 

28. Burnet, Frag. 80. 

29. Op, cit., p. 179. 

30. Ibid., p. 175, 11. 19-22. 

31. Ibid., p. 176, il. 34-36. 

32. Burnet (ibid., p. 173) translates “belief.” 

33. Ibid., p. 173; Frags, 4 and 5. 

34. Ibid., p. 174; Frag. 8, II. 1-9. 

35. Burnet (ibid., p, 173 n.) defends a translation of logos by “argument.' 

36. Ibid., II. 33-36. 


Burnet, John. Early Greek Philosophy. London, 1930. 

Gassirer, Ernst. “Die Philosophic der Griechen von den Anfangen bis Platon,” 
in Max Dessoir, Handbuch der Philosophie, I, 7-140. Berlin, 1925. 

CoRNFORD, F. M. From Religion to Philosophy. London, 1912. 

Joel, Karl. Geschichte der antiken Philosophie, Vol. L Tiibingen, 1921. 

Myres, J. L. “The Background of Greek Science,” University of California 
Chronicle, Vol 


Aaron, 282 
Abel, 312 
Abiathar, 357 
Abihu, 302 

Abimeiech, 304, 344-45 
Abishag, 347 
Aboda Zara, 333 

Abraham, 225, 233, 243, 270, 279, 326- 
28, 330, 335, 370-71 
Absalom, 231, 347-48 
Abydos, 22, 25 
Abyss, 50, 52, 259 
Accho, Plain of, 335 
Achan, 33 5 

Achemenids, 223; see Persians 
Activity and inactivity, conflict of, 173, 
175, 180-81 
Adab canal, 167 
Adam, 273 
Adapa, 14-15 
Aesop^s Fables^ 256 
Africa, 35, 73, 228 
Africans, 17, 33 

Afterlife; see Hereafter; Immortality 
Agade, 192 

Agricultural communities, 32, 40, 372 
Agriculuiral year, 35-36, 50, 364 
Agriculture, 13, 32, 101, 128, 161, 
Agur, 239 

Ahab, 275, 299, 332, 349-50, 355 

Air, 9, 18-19, 46, 52, 54, 85, 375, 377- 
78, 380, 382; seedsoSim 
Ajalon, 299 
akh, 48, 98, 107 
Akhnaton, 88, 225 
Akitu house, 236 
Akkadian language, 169 
Alexander, 223 
Allegory, 7 
Amarna letters, 343 
Amarna Revolution, 112 
Amaunet, 10, 52 
Ammon, 226-27, 327, 329 
Amon (Amun), 10, 34, 52, 64, 66, 72, 
78, 83, 88, 114, 237 
Amon-Re, 49, 72, 88 

Amos, 225-28, 252, 270, 306, 332-33 
337, 375 

An-Anum list, 172, 180, 375 
Anarchy, 77, 100-101, 127, 304, 317 
Anatolia, 80 

Anaximander, 376-81, 383, 387 
Anaximenes, 377-78, 380, 382 
Angels, 233-34, 258 
Animals, 5-6, 38, 40, 44, 51, 55, 58, 62, 
130, 136, 255-57, 261, 263, 266, 291- 
92, 296, 380; sacred, 64 
Animism, 4, 6, 40, 130 
Anshar, 170-72, 176-77 
Anu, 136-40, 143, 145, 147-48, 150, 160, 
166, 170-72, 176, 178-80, 182-83, 
192-94, 197, 203, 363, 365 
Anunnaki, 140, 147, 177, 193-94, 197 
Apiladad, 205 
Apollo, 384 
Apophis, 24, 70 
Apotheosis, 230 
apsu^ 162-63 
Apsu, 170, 173-76, 179 
Arabia, 243 
Arabian Desert, 334 
Arabs, 32 

Architecture: monumental, 129; stone, 
95 . 

Aristophanes, 380 
Aristotle, 135 
Ark, 282, 328 
Art, 41-42, 129 
Asa, 340 

Asceticism, 260, 264 
Ashtoreth, 235 
Asia, 73, 110-11 
Asia Minor, 249, 373 
Asiatics, 33-34, 39, 44, 100, 110 
Assarhaddon, 12 

Assemblies, popular, 128, 135-36, 149, 

Assembly of gods, 136-37, 140-43, 145, 
150, 153, 156, 177, 181-83, 185, 192, 
194-97, 366 
Assur, 169, 200 

Assyria, 169, 223, 225-26, 319, 324, 358 
Assyrians, 34, 111, 252, 310, 313 
Astrology, 21, 366 


Astronomy, 81, 249, 280 
Athaliah, 349, 357 
Atheism, 238, 240 
Athens, 149, 223 

Arum, 9-10, 19, 49, 51, 53-54, 56-58, 
66, 375 

Augurs, 282-83 

Authoritative utterance, 57, 58, 83-85, 
90; see also Command 
Authority, 56-57, 72, 74, 84, 86-88, 129, 
138-39, 143, 147-48, 150, 173-78, 
202-3, 306, 316-17, 372 
Autonomy of thought, 6, 10, 26, 385-87 
J’-zi-mura, 158 

ba, 102 

Baal Berith, 328 
Baals, 235, 296-97 
Baba, 187 

Babylon, 169, 172, 192-93, 200, 240, 
249, 332, 338, 354, 358, 364, 373 
Babylonia, 7, 9-10, 17, 24-25, 34, 141, 
152, 223-24, 230, 236, 243, 249, 279- 
80, 297, 318-19, 322, 351, 371 
Babylonians, 6-8, 10, 12-13, 20, 50, 119, 
139, 236, 244, 249, 282, 322, 324, 363, 
365, 374-75 
Bahrein, 157 
Balaam oracles, 330 
Bastet, 65, 86 
Bath-Sheba, 306, 346 
Battles, 10, 48, 175-76, 179-80; see also 
Beasts; see Animals 
Becoming, 381, 385, 387 
Bedouins, 34, 39, 338, 343 
Beetle, 49 

Being, 381, 385, 387 
Bel, 236; see also Eniil 
Ben-Hadad, 226, 332 
Bethlehem, 546 

Bible, translations of: American Stand- 
ard Version, v-vi, 286; Chicago, 259, 
367; King James, 258 
Biidad, 257 

Birth, 9, 23, 35, 43, 54, 72, 145-46, 170- 
72, 244, 365; Rebirth 

Blessings, 299-300 
Boars, 37-38, 46, 48 
Boaz, 343 

Book of the Dead, 51, 53 
“Boundless,’’ 377, 379-81 
brith^ 328 

Bull, 40, 62; of Heaven, 6, 208 

Cain, 312 
Caicol, 288 
Calendar, 81, 105, 181 
Canaanites, 235, 268, 288, 296, 304, 312, 
327, 337 

“Cannibal Hymn,” 68 
Caphtor, 228 
Carmel, Mount, 297, 335 
Cataracts, 35 

Causality, 15-20, 23, 42, 157-58 
Chaldeans, 310, 313 

Chaos, 7, 9-10, 15, 21, 24, 51-55, 143- 
44, 150, 170-71, 173, 175, 180-81, 
183, 199-200, 259, 296, 365-66, 375, 

Chemosh, 301, 329 
Chinese, 119 

Chosen people, 329-32, 370-71 
Christ, 294, 317 
Christian churches, 358 
Christian thinking, 267-68, 294 
Christianity, 224, 233, 319 
Church, 342, 355-58; see also Temples 
Cicero, 376 

City-states, 128-29, 149, 185-86, 188- 
89, 191-92, 194-96, 198 
Clouds, 170-71, 174, 378, 380 
Coalescence of symbol and object, 12-1 3, 
18, 21-22, 24, 63-65 
Command, 56-61, 90, 137, 139-40, 175- 
78, 203, 373; see also Word of God 
Conscience, 109, 114, 315-18, 327, 339- 

Consubstantiality, 62-69, 90, 97, 224 
Cosmic forces, 4, 10, 200 
Cosmogony, 9-10, 50-61, 168-83, 376 
Cosmology, 10, 42-49, 137-48, 180 
Cosmos, 9, 126-27, 129, 135-37, 144, 
149, 168, 173, 180, 191, 250, 296, 

Council: of elders, 129, 343-44, 353; of 
gods, 50, 52, 60, 108; see also As- 
semblies; Assembly of gods 
Counterheaven, 45, 48, 52 
Covenant, 23, 326, 328-30, 332 
Cow, 9, 18-19, 45-47, 62, 365 
Crafts, 13, 33, 59, 157, 159, 161 
Craftsmen, 41-42, 147 
Creation, 8-10, 21-22, 24, 50-61, 106, 
170-72, 182, 258-59, 289-90, 366; 
Babylonian Epic of, 7-8, 10, 25, 139^ 
142-43, 168-83, 375; stories of, 50- 
61, 64, 139, 142, 232, 258-59, 277, 
366, 375 



Creativity, 146-47, 198-99 , 

Creator, 9-10, 21, 35, 49, 51-58, 64, 67, 
96-98, 107, 145, 259, 363, 366 
Criticism, .234-42, 285-86, 320 
Crocodile,' 40, 49, ' 62 
Curses, 24, 299-300, 332 
Cynicism, 104, 240, 263 
Cyrus, 318, 354 

Damascus, 224-27, 319 
Daniel, 318 
Danites, 304 
Darda, 288 
Darius I, 358 ' ■ 

Darkness, 10, 24, 35, 44, 52-53, 259 
Dat, 48 

David, 225, 273, 280, 305, 320, 328, 336, 
345-50, 357, 371 
Day, 21, 23, 48, 181 
Dead, 12, 18-19, 22, 48, 51, 63, 67-69, 
73-74, 103-4, 108, 365; Book of the, 
51, 53; land of the, 296; see also 
Hades; Hereafter; Nether world 
Death, 14-16, 21-23, 25, 35-36, 43-44, 
47-48, 59, 69, 73, 94, 98, 102-3, 199- 
200, 208-12, 257, 263, 268, 297, 365, 

Deborah, Song of, 328 
Decalogue, 340 
Delta, 37, 40, 43, 73, 100 
Demeter, 373 

Democracy, 98, 105, 108-9, 303, 350, 
354; primitive, 128-29, 135, 149, 181, 

Democritus, 377 
Demons, 9, 17, 206-7, 212-13 
Density of population, 32 
Desert, 12, 16, 31-33, 35, 37-40, 73, 
101, 161, 243, 334-35, 370-72 
Destinies, 136, 150, 176, 179, 300, 332, 

Destruction, 71, 141-42, 150; of man- 
kind, 55, 67, 211 

Determinism, 115-17, 241, 274-75 
Deung Adok, 9 

“Dialogue of Pessimism,” 216-18 
Dike, 375 

Diodorus, 76, 81-82, 118 
Dionysus, 373, 384 
Dionysus-Zagreus, 374 
Disease, 16-17, 159-60, 163-64, 205-7, 

Disk, sun; Sun disk 
Divine right of kings, 75, 348-5Q 

Djahi, 80 

Djed pillar, 25 

Doom, 375 

Dragons, 12, 48, 176 

Dramatization of myths, 7, 64, 199-200; 

see also New Year’s Festival 
Dreams, 11-12, 15, 189-91, 375 
Drought, 6-7, 15 

Dumuzi (Tammuz), 161, 166, 198-99 

Dungi, 194 

Dunshagana, 187 

Duranki, 152 

Durgishimmar, 152 

Dying god, 347, 373 

Ea, 133, 171-72, 174-77, 179, 181-82, 
206-7, 272, 297-98, 365; see also Enki 
Ear, 133 

Earth, 9, 18-20, 22, 45-46, 48, 53-55, 
60, 132-33, 135, 137, 140, 145-46, 
150, 157-59, 161-62, 164, 169-72, 
174, 183, 193, 195, 230, 239, 250-51, 
259, 281, 365, 367, 374-75, 378, 380, 

Earthquakes, 244 

East, 21, 24, 35, 43-44, 48-49, 94 

Eclipses, 48 

Edom, 224, 226, 327, 329, 336 
Egypt, 9-10, 14-15, 17-18, 21, 24-25, 
31-121, 125-26, 223-24, 226-28, 230, 
243, 263, 279, 288, 297, 515, 319, 327, 
340-41, 347, 351, 358, 363-66, 370- 
71, 373, 375 

Egyptian words, 33, 37, 38, 43, 51, 53, 

Egyptians, 9, 12-13, 17-20, 22, 24, 26, 
31-121, 125-27, 225, 227, 244, 313, 
327, 338, 354, 363, 365-69, 372-75 
“Eight,” 10, 52 
Eirene, 375 
Ekur, 130, 164, 194 
Elamites, 141 
Eleatics, 379, 384 
Elephantine, 73, 333 
Elihu, 273, 308 

Elijah, 232, 280, 297-98, 320, 332, 338, 

^elilimy 236 

Eliphaz, 257, 265, 285, 367 
Elisha, 232, 298, 320 
^elokim, 258 

Eloquent Peasant, 79, 82-83, 109, 338 
Elysian Fields, 48 
Emesh, 166 


Empire period in Egypt, I I 0-1 3 
Empirical thinking, 242, 252, 280, 380 
Eninnu, 189*-90 

Enki, 14, 137, 143, 146-48, 157-65, 171- 
72, 174, 193-94, 365; see also Ea 
Enkidu, 208-10 
Enkimdii, 166-67 

Enlii, 130, 133-34, 136-37, 140-45, 
147-48, 150, 152-57, 160, 165-66, 
169, 175, 178, 180-81, 192-97, 200, 
208-9, 211, 236, 365; myth of, and 
Ninlil, 152-57 
Enlii functions, 192-94 
Enlulim, 187 

Ennead, 52-53, 56-58, 67 
ensi, 188-90 
Ensignun, 187 
Entemena, 207 
Enten, 166 
Enul, 194 

Enuma elish, 142-43, 168-83; see also 
Creation, Babylonian Epic of 
Environment; see Geography 
Ephraim, 229 

Equality of opportunity, 106-7 
Erinyes, 383 
Essenes, 260 

Estates of the gods, 149, 185-88, 191 
Ethan the Ezrahite, 288 
Ethics, 82, 224, 227, 266, 307, 310-14, 
329-30, 340; see also Morality 
Ethiopians, 228 
Etiquette, 97-99, 113 
Eunomia, 375 

Euphrates, 36, 126, 148, 160, 171 
Eusebius, 323 

Evil, 17, 67, 106-7, 271-72 
Evil spirits, 1 7 
Exile, 236, 288, 327 

Exodus, 313, 327, 371; Pharaoh of the, 

Ezra, 333-34, 356 

Fables, 7, 256 
Falcon, 20, 40, 49, 62, 74 
Fall of man, 271 
Fantasy, 3, 7 

Farmer, 165-68; see also Agriculture 
Fate, 115-16, 136 

Fertility, 20, 23, 32, 36, 38-39, 43, 79- 
81, 145-46, 198-99, 244, 296-98, 347, 
365, 378 

Festivals, 25, 198-200; see also New 
Year’s Festival 
“Field of OjfFerings,” 48 

“Field of Reeds,” 48 
Fire, 134-35, 23 3, 237, 244, 272, 377- 
78, 381-82, 385 
First cause, 376-81 
Flint, 131-32, 134 

Flood story: Babylonian, 211; Hebrew, 
55, 67, 279, 313 
Floods; see inundations 
Force, 109, 126, 141-44, 173, 175, 192, 
301-3, 311 

Foreigners, 33, 37-39, 69, lOO-lOl, 110, 
312-14, 327-28, 332-34 
Four pillars of heaven, 46 
Freaks, origin of, 163, 165 
Freedom, 272, 274-75, 303, 314, 354-55, 
372, 375-76 
Frogs, 10 
Future, 26 

Gaea, 374 
Gander, 64 
Gaza, 226-27 
Geb, 9, 54, 365, 375 
Genealogy of gods, 9, 19, 54, 152-58, 
170-72^ 375 

Generative forces in nature, 20, 364 
Geography, 31-42, 125-27, 243, 261, 

Geometry, 41-42 

Gentiles, 313, 332, 367 

Geshur, 231 

Gibeonites, 332 

Gibil, 141 

Gideon, 344, 350 

Gilboa, Mount, 345 

Gilead, 226, 280 

Gilgamesh, 14, 208-12 

Gilgamesh Epic, 14, 16, 208-12 

Gishbare, 188 

Gizeh, 95 

God, 23, 56, 59, 223-63, 265-76, 279, 
281, 283-86, 289-94, 296-303, 306- 
13, 315-18, 321, 323-24, 326, 329-34, 
339, 341, 344, 352, 355-57, 359, 363, 
367-73, 387 
God’s land, 43-44 

Good life, 93-94, 96, 98, I0I-2, 104, 

. 110, 112, 117, 202-18, 264-67 ■ 
Goodness, 84, 106, 108-9, 316; see also 

Government, 70-71, 73, 81, 86-90, 98, 
100, 110, 149, 303-5, 317-18, 343-58 
Grain, 131 

Great Mother, 9-10, 17, 365, 375; 
also Mother-goddess 



Greece, 9, 293, 323, 359, 374-75, '380 
Greeks, 9,. 12, 34, 119, 233, 242, 248- 
. 49, 258, 261, 265, 272, 278, 290, 293- 
95, 319, 363, 373-87 . 

,Gudea,,13, 15, 189-91 
■ Gctiaas, 195, 

Habakkiik,, 310 
Habiru, 343 ■ 

Hades, 153-56,, 

Hair, 12 , 

HallBcinatiofis, 12 ' ' 

Hamitic peoples, 35 

Hammurabi, ,192-93, 223,, 3 38; Code of, 

,'208 y ■ 

Hananiab, 241 
Hannah, 369 , 

Harakhte, 49, 66-67 
Hardedef, 104, 1,18 
Hasmon, 354 
Hatshepsut, 72 / 

Hauhet, ,10, 52 ■ ' 

Hazael, 22,6, 

Heart, 56-58, 67, 83-85, 107-8, 268-69, 
mi, 2'79, ''316-17 

Heaven, 14-15, 17-18, . 21, ' 45-48, 55, ■ 

60, 1 36, 139-40, 154, 

164, 166, 169, 172-73, 183, 193, 195, 
209, 231, 235, 237-39, 250, 259, 263, 
281, 284, 299, 313, 363, 365, 367, 
374, 379, 387; see also Counter heaven; 

Hebrew creation story, 50, 52 
Hebrew flood story, 55, 67, 279, 313 
Hebrew words, 236, 258, 278, 302, 328 
Hebrews, 31, 119, 223-359, 363, 367- 
73, 375 
Hebron, 231 
Hedonism, 101, 103-4 
Helicon, 375 

Heliopolis, 21-22, 49, 5 1-52, 56, 59 
Hellenism, 223, 276 
Heman, 288 
Heraclims, 377, 380-87 
Hereafter, 17-18, 22, 37, 43, 51, 85, 98, 
102, 107, 110, 113, 116, 365, 372 
Hermonthis, 21 , , 

Hermopolis, 51 

Herodotus, 25, 81-82, 118, 319, 322 
Hesiod,' 375-76, 384 
Hezekiah, '299, 340 

History, 318-23, 325, 370, 373; philoso- 
phy of, 522-23 
Hittites, 34, 80, 'Hi . ; V 

Holy Communion, 7 

Holy of Holies, 2 1-22, 238 
Homer, 375, 378, 380, 383 
Horai, 375 
Horeb, 237 
Horizon, 170-72 

Horns, 17, 20, 39, 47, 49, 64, 66-67, 

Hosea, 229, 276, 297, 329, 337-38, 357 

Hu, 57, 83-84 

Hubur, 175 

Huh, 10, 52 

Huwawa, 208-9 

Hyksos, 110-11 

Idsalla, 152 
Igalimma, 187 
Igigi, 140, 193 
Illness; see Disease 

Imagery, 6-7, 18-20, 22, 26, 45-49, 132, 
289, 365-66, 371 

Images: of enemies, 1 34-35; of gods, 14, 
19-20, 64, 235-38, 269, 318, 368 
Imdugud, 6 
Imhotep, 104, 118 

Immanence, 232, 296, 363, 366-67, 372- 

Immortality, 15-16, 48, 59, 70, 98, 104, 
107-8, 210-12, 365 

Impersonation of gods, 25, 64, 199-200 
Inanna, 166-68, 192, 198-99, 208; myth 
of the Elevation of, 140; Wooing of, 

Incantations, 70, 130, 132-33, 147 
Individualism, 5-6, 94, 98, 100-101, 104, 
106, 109-10, 112-13, 338-39, 341--lr3 
Infinite, 379 

Inundations, 15, 23, 25, 36-37, 50, SC- 
SI, 107, 126-27, 157, 180, 189, 199, 

Ionian philosophers, 376-79, 382, 384 
Ipuwer, 338, 368 
Iran, 249; see also Persia 
Iraq, 32 

Irrigation, 128, 146-47 
Isaiah, 230, 236, 252, 268, 270, 299, 310, 
324-25, 331-32, 337 
Ishme-Dagan, 194 
Isin, 193-94, 198 
Isis, 17, 54, 67, 70, 75 
Islam, 224 

Isolationism of Egypt, 32-34, 37, 73, 126 
Israel, 223-360, 367, 370 
‘■I-Thou” relationship, 4-5, 130, 231, 

‘It,” 4-6, 41, 49, 130, 364 


Jackal, 40, 62 
Jacob, 327-28, 370-71 
Jakeh, 239 
Japan, 77 
Jebusites, 336 
Jehoiada, 357 
Jehoiakim, 351, 353 
Jehu, 280, 317, 338, 349 
Jephthah, 344 

Jeremiah, 240-41, 260, 270, 274, 296-98, 
314, 324, 329, 339, 342, 351 
Jericho, 302 
Jeroboam II, 337, 349 
Jerusalem, 231, 237, 240, 249, 298, 305, 
313, 317, 324, 328, 334, 336-39, 346, 
Jesse, 348 
Jesus, 294, 317 
Jews, 26, 223-60 
Jezebel, 280, 335 
Joab, 346 
joash, 340 

Job, 264, 272, 274, 284-85, 308-9, 367 

Jonadab ben Rechab, 338 

Jonah, 332 

Jonathan, 345 

Joseph, 269, 279 

Joshua, 299-300, 332, 334-35 

Josiah, 352-53, 357 

Jotham, 256 

Judah, 249, 268, 301, 316, 324, 333, 337, 
349, 352-53 
Judas, 318 

Judges, 47, 108, 135, 195, 207, 356-57 
Judges, Book of, 304-5, 308, 329, 344-45 
Judging of the dead, 108 
Judgments, divine, 88, 228 
Ju-ok, 9 

Justice, 8, 14, 79, 82-90, 99-101, 105, 
108-9, 117, 136, 183, 189, 194, 197- 
98, 206-8, 212-15, 284, 300, 303, 
306-9, 324, 363 

ka, 53-54, 85, 97-98, 107-8, 115 

Kargeshtinna, 152 

Karusar, 152 

Kauket, 10, 52 

Khepri, 66 

Khnum, 49, 54, 65, 86 
Khufu-onekh, 95 
Ki, 145-46, 172 
Kingaluda, 141 
^‘Kingdom of God,” 26 
Kings, 12, 15, 22, 24-26, 33, 41, 48-49, 
51, 55, 57, 62, 64-65, 68-86, 88, 90, 

96-98, 101, 107, 109, 111-12, 118, 
177, 181, 183, 192-93, 195, 198-200, 
274, 305-6, 318, 336, 345-50, 352-53, 
357, 366 

Kingship, 17, 63, 65, 72, 75, 77, 80-81, 
101, 129, 139-40, 178, 192-93, 195- 
97, 304-6, 347-50, 357, 366; insignia 
of, 74, 79, 139, 178 
Kingu, 176, 179, 182, 200 
Kish, 192, 195 
Kishar, 170-72 
Kiur, 155 
Kola, 9 

Kuk, 10, 52-53 

Lagash, 187, 189, 195, 204 
Lahamu, 170-72 
Lahmu, 170-72 
Laish, 304 
Lamashtu, 1 7 
Lacarak, 133 

Law, 82, 84, 88-90, 101, 303-6, 312, 
314-18, 3 35, 339-40, 349, 552, 356-57 
Laws, natural, 5, 11, 15-16, 139-40, 
294-304, 306-7, 311-13, 315-17, 350, 

Legends, 7 
Le%hiel, 239 

Levites, 304, 340, 352, 357 
Libya, 13 

Libyans, 35-35, 78, HI 
Lif46, 10, 14-16,21,23,31, 36, 44-45, 
48, 50-51, 55, 60, 69, 93-94, 98, 
102-3, no, 113, 130, 145, 210-12, 
259, 263, 365; see also Hereafter; Im- 
Light, 53, 259 

Lightning, 127, 135, 244, 374, 380 
Lions, 37, 39, 62, 190 
Logic, 6, 10-11, 26, 386 
Logos, 56, 381, 386 
Love, 71, 83, 229, 234 
Lower Egypt, 73-74, 77 
Lucian, 236 

Ludlul bel mmequ 211-1 S 
Lugal-edinna, 133 
Lugalzaggisi, 204 
Lullu, 182 
Lydia, 373 

?m^atr 14, 82, 84, 88, 105, 108-9, 369, 

Maccabean revolt, 31 8 
Macedonian kingdom, 319 



Magic, 11, 13, 17, 68, 70, 80, 94, 105, 
130-34, 174-75, 178, 281, 283, 297- 

Mahol, 288 

Majesty, 75-77, 109, 138, 143 
Maiachi, 240,^ 356 

Man: and animals, 5, 33, 44, 62, 130, 
255-57, 261, 263, 291-92, 380; crea- 
tion of, 54-55, 182, 258-59, 374; and 
gods, 33, 44, 55, 58, 62-66, 68-69, 
77-79, 88, 90, 96, 115-18, 182, 185- 
86, 188, 191, 199-200, 203-7, 261-63, 
270-72, 291-92, 323, 339, 366, 370, 
372-74; and nature, 4-8, 24-26, 40, 
126-27, 1 34, 244-48, 363-64, 366-67, 
373, 376-77, 387; and society, 4, 25- 
26, 62, 112-14, 118-19, 163-65, 202- 
3, 266, 317-18, 342-43 
Maoris, 9, 18 

Marduk, 7, 10, 133-34, 169, 172, 175- 
83, 192-93, 200, 206, 215, 217, 236- 
37, 249, 298, 365-66 
Materialism, 96, 98-101, 105, 240, 377 
Matter, origin of, 259 
Medical texts, 17, 95, 105 
Mediterranean folk, 261 
Mediterranean Sea, 35, 73, 80 
Meger, 39 

Memphis, 21, 56, 364 
Memphite Theology, 8, 55-59, 83, 95, 

Mercy, 85, 90, 117, 215, 230, 234, 266 
Mesilim, 195 
Mesiamtaea, 154 

Mesopotamia, 31, 95, 98, 123-218, 347, 
363-67, 370-71, 373, 375 
Micah, 270, 304, 337 
Micaiah ben Imiah, 275, 299 
Middle Kingdom in Egypt, 12-13, 1 04-9 
Milcom, 329 

Milesians, 380-81, 385, 387 
Milky Way, 46 
Miracles, 36, 54, 299, 320 
Mishnah, 316 

Moab, 224, 226, 261, 301, 327, 329 
Mock-battles, 25, 199-200 
Models, 63 
Mohammed, 372 
Moist element, 378, 380 
Moisture, 9, 19, 53-54, 375 
Monophysitism, 66, 97, 363 
Monotheism, 8, 66, 97, 224-25, 227, 
229-30, 369 
Monsters, 12, 37 
Montu-Re, 49 v 

Mood of a civilization, 125-27 
Moon, 46-47, 66, 80, 126, 133-34, 152- 
56, 181-82, 199, 237, 249, 36^; see 
a/fo Sin; Thoth 

Morality, 55, 59, 84, 87-91, 105, 109, 
155, 213, 227-28, 235, 252, 262, 274, 
302-4, 306-10, 313 

Moses, 119, 225, 258, 270, 279, 316, 
367, 371-72 

Mother Earth, 135, 137, 145-46, 157 
Mother-goddess, 17, 19, 145, 175, 363, 
365, 371, 373-74; also Great 

Mountains, 39, 41, 44, 243-44, 246, 250, 
261 ; Lady of the, 137 
Muhra, 133 

Mummu, 170, 173-74, 176 
Muses, 375 
Mushdama, 161 

Mystery religions, Greek, 373-74 
Mythopoeic thought, 8-12, 14, 16-21, 
23-24, 26, 158-59, 173, 199, 363-64, 
369, 375, 378-81, 383-84, 386-87 
Myths, 6-10, 14-15, 17-19, 47, 50-55, 
74, 77, 140, 142-43, 151-83, 208-12, 
364-65, 369-70, 373, 376 

Naboth, 305-6, 320, 335 
Nabu, 236 
Nadab, 302 

Names, 12-13, 53, 58, 66, 97, 102, 158, 
170, 183, 367 
Nammu, 162 
Nanna, 142, 192, 194 
Nanshe, 190 
Naomi, 343 
Nathan, 350 

National gods, 77-78, 111-12, 117, 329- 

Nationalism, 33, 111-12, 330-31 
Nature, 4, 6, 8, 23-26, 40, 69, 80, 126- 
28, 134, 235, 244-48, 363-64, 366-67, 
371, 373-77, 387 
Naunet, 10, 52 * 

Nebuchadrezzar, 223 
Neferrohu, 368 
Negeb, 336 
Negroes, 33, 35, 228 
Nehemiah, 320, 333 
Nemaatre, 85 
Nephthys, 54 

Nether world, 21-22, 24, 37-38, 45, 48, 
60,94, 152-56 
New Kingdom in Egypt, 17 
New Testament, 56, 277 


New Year’s Day, 24-’25, 366 
New Year’s Festival, 7~8, 13, 25, 200, 
236, 364 

Nichoiaus of Damascos, 319 
Nidaba, 132, 153, 204 
Night, 21,23-24, 48, 375 
Ntg-zi-gdl-dim-me^ 145 
Nile, 9, 15-16, 32, 35-38, 43, 45, 50, 
66, 69-71, 73, 80, 85, 101, 126, 364- 
65; Valley, 32, 38-39, 60, 96, IIL 

Ninazo, 155 
“Nine”; see Ennead 
Nineveh, 229 
Ningal, 196-97 
Ningirsn, 187-91, 195, 207 
Ninhursaga, 137, 146, 157-59, 161, 

Nininsina, 193 

Ninki, 194 

Ninlil, 133, 152-57 

Ninmah, 145, 161-65 

Ninsar, 157 

Ninshebargimu, 152 

Nin-tu, 145 

Ninul, 194 

Ninurta, 131, 133 

Nippur, 152-53, 169, 177, 193-95 

Noah, 233, 313 

Nomads, 335, 371-72 

North Star, 47 

North wind, 35, 37-38, 70 

Nubia, 13, 101 

Nubians, 34 

Nudimmut (Ea, Enki), 171-72 
Nun, 10, 22, 45, 50-53, 56-57, 365 
Nunamnir, 153 
Nunbirdu, 152 

Nut, 9, 17-19, 46, 54, 365, 375 

Oaths, 300-301, 303-4 
Oannes, 13 

Obedience, 94, 113-17, 139, 199-200, 
202-5, 207, 311 

Ocean surrounding the earth, 22, 45; see 
Sea; Waters 

Offerings, 14, 106-8, 356 
Ogdoad, 11, 52 
Okeanos, 45, 375, 378 
Old age, 159-60, 163-65 
Old Kingdom in Egypt, 65, 93, 95-98, 

Old Testament, 23, 223-359, 367-71, 
373, 386 

Olympian gods, 374 

Omens, 25, 189, 196 
Opposites, 379-84 
Optimism, 94, 324 

Oracles, 118, 225-26, 274, 330, 351, 377 
Order, 8, 10, 15, 23, 51-53, 58-60, 82- 
127, 140, 161, 164-65, 366, 369 377 
Orientation, 43 

Origins, 8, 51, 151, 170-72, 183, 376- 
Bly 'iB6; see also Cremoa 
Orphism, 374, 384 

Osiris, 9-10, 13, 17, 29, 25, 47, 54, 67, 
70, 73-75, 98, 108, 272, 365, 373 

Palestine, 13, 32, 34, 223, 227-28, 232, 
237, 243, 249, 287, 313, 326, 334-36, 
343, 354 
Papremis, 25 

Parallelism of members; see Symmetry 
Parmenides, 384-87 
pars pro toto, 1 2 

Past, Egyptian interest in, 26, 118-19 

Paternalism, 82-83, 85 

Paul, 232, 268, 277, 294, 313, 317, 328 

Pentateuch, 315, 327, 333 

per-aa^ 75 

Perception, 57-58, 65, 83-85, 90 
Pericles, 223 
Persia, 249, 319, 373-74 
Persian Gulf, 157, 171, 211 
Perrians, 12, 34, 223, 318 
Personal gods, 96, 117, 203-7, 212-13 
Personalism, 4-5, 295, 306, 311 
Personification, 5-6, 14, 17, 19, 35, 40- 
41, 46, 56, 71, 130-32, 134-37, 203, 
247, 364-65, 369, 375, 379 
Pessimism, 102-3, 216-18, 257, 281, 307 
Pharaohs; rrir Kings 

Phenomena, natural, 4, 6-8, 10-11, 15- 
17, 19-20, 35, 40-41, 45-49, 66, 130- 
31, 134, 136-37, 148, 191, 199, 244- 
47, 364-67, 369, 372, 377-81, 383 
Phiiae, 21 
Philistia, 228 

Philistines, 228, 328, 333, 345-46 
Philo, 334 

Phiiosonhy, 55-56, 61, 95, 105, 119, 242, 
322-23, 376-87 
Phoenicia, 101, 373 
Pickax, myth of the, 165 
Pindar, 374 

Plant of life, 14, 16, 211-12 
Plants, 6, 55, 62, 130, 136, 157, 159, 256 
Plato, 258, 290, 292, 383^ 387 
Pompey, 237 

Posts supporting sky, 45-46 



Pottery 'bowls, smasbed,"!3, 298 
Power, 17, 35, 59, 135-3'6, 138, 143. 

148-50, 174-75,. 177, 301-2, 304-5, 
' 3 08, see ■ also ,■ Authority 

■■ “PrelogicaF’' thought, il ' 

Priests,. 60, 64-65, 72, 76-77, 117, 147, 

. 282-8.3, 317,. 355-58, 370, 375-76 ■ 
Primeval couples, 9, 52, 170-72 
Primeval hill, 21-22,- 24,. 50-53 
Primeval waters, 9-10, 22, 45, 50-53, 
56-58, 170-71, 180, 365, 375, 378 
Primitive Democracy, 128-29, 135, 149, 

, .181, 343-44 

Primitive man, 5-6, 9-12, 15-16, 18, 23, 

■ ; 130, 231 

Primitive thought, 21 
Prometheus, 272 

Prophets, 223, 225-29, 236, 239-41, 243, 
264, 269-71, 273, 275-76, 282-83, 
296, 298-99, 303, 306, 310-12, 314, 
317, 326-27, 331-32, 334, 337-40, 
342, 349-50, 355-57, 363, 371-72 
Proto-literate period in Mesopotamia, 

Ptah, 56-59, 66, 97, 116, 365 
Ptahhotep, 288 
Pulal, 152 
Punt, 43 

Pyramid Texts, 14, 46, 48, 53, 57 
Pyramids, 22, 51, 65, 95, 100-101, 105, 

Pythagoras, 383-84, 387 
Pythagoreans, 379, 384 

Rain, 20, 38-39, 44, 80, 126, 147, 161, 
180, 243-44, 246, 296-97 
Ram, 64 
Ram-god, 49, 54 
Ramoth Gilead, 275, 299, 320 
Ramses 11, 83 

Re, 18-19, 24, 26, 41, 49, 51, 56, 65-67, 
71-76, 85, 97, 108, 110; Son of, 71-75 
Reason, 3, 11, 381, 386-87 
Rebirth, 19, 22, 25, 43, 365, 373; of Baal, 
297; of the Nile, 35-36; of the sun, 19, 

3 5-36, 43-45, 48, 50, 365 ; of the stars, 

\ W ■ 

Rechabite movement, 338 
Reeds, 131-32 

Rehoboam, 280, 305, 317, 337-38, 348- 

Righteous sufferer, 208, 212-15 
Righteousness, 59, 89, 108-9, 136, 227, 
229-30, 235, 253, 262, 303, 306, 308- 
11, 316-17, 323-25, 339, 368 

Rituals, 7-8, 13-14, 17, 23, 25, 74, 80- 
82, 84, 94, 118, 198-200, 302, 356-57 
Rivers, 15, 146-47, 160 
Roman Empire, 17 
Rome, 323, 358-59 
Royal tombs, Egyptian, 22 
Ruth, 327 

Sagas, 7 

Sages, 104, 118, 368, 376; see also Wise 

Sakhebu, 12 
Salt, 130-3! 

Salvation, 267-69, 373, 384 
Samaria, 337 
Samaritans, 333 
Samson, 304 

Samuel, 225, 305, 345, 350-51, 355, 
357-58, 369 
Saqqara, 93 

Saul, 279-80, 300, 305, 315, 335, 345, 
355, 357, 371 
Scapegoat, 16 

Science,’ 3-5, 11, 15, 95, 105, 241, 249- 
50, 252, 279-80, 283, 377 
Sculpture, 41-42, 105, 109 
Sea, 41, 160-61, 180, 245-46, 378; see 
also Octm'y Waters 
Sea Peoples, 111 

Seasons, 8, 23-25, 35-36, 80-81, 126, 
295-97, 371 

Second Intermediate Period in Egypt, 1 10 
Second Isaiah, 236, 250-53, 332-33, 368 
Sehetepibre, 73 
Sekhmet, 65, 67, 70-71, 86 
Semites, 33, 35, 223, 236 
Serpents, 10, 14-15, 20, 24, 37, 48, 175, 

Servant Songs, 313, 352 
Seth, 54, 66-67, 70, 74, 80, 272 
Seal, 22 

Shadow, 6, 12, 75-76 
Shakanshabar, 187 
Shamash, 133, 209, 363; see also Utu 
Shara, 195 

Shechem, 305, 328, 345 
She^oi, 284, 299 

Shepherd, 78-79, 90, 93, 101, 109, 161, 
166-68, 198, 351 
Shilluk, 9 

Shu, 9, 18-19, 46, 51, 53-54, 58, 66, 71, 

Shumer, 141, 145, 195, 197, 223, 236, 
243, 338 


Sia, 57, 65, 83-84 
Siduri, 14 
Silence, 114-15 
Silt, 36, 50, 170-72, 180 
Sin, 16, 86, 116, 231, 259-63, 267-69, 
271-73; original, 258 
Sin, 133, 153-56 
Sinai, 43, 237, 316, 326, 370 

SkeptkS^?215-16, 234, 238, 241, 248, 

Skv 9, 18-19, 45-47, 53-54, 62, 137-38, 
140, 145, 150, 162, 169-72, 179-81, 
191, 365, 375; ii/xo Heaven 
Slavery, 314-15, 337, 340-41 

Smili, Win, Surgical Papyrus, 95, 105 
Snakes; see Serpents 
Sobek~Re, 49 ^ 

Social upheaval, 100-101, 110. 

Society, 4, 10, 25, 62, 96, 107 114, 3^ 
35 139-40, 143, 149, 155-56, 16 j- 
65’, 168, 202, 266, 303-4, 317-18, 3 3^ 
37 ^ 342-44, 363, 366; nomad, 303, 
53’5, 337, 3 39 

sTm”',”! 2«, 266, 2»0. 288, 

305, 327, 336, 346-48, 357 
Song of Songs, 247 
Soul, 102-3, 277-78, 577 
Sovereignty, 185 

Space, 18, 20-21, 24-25, 45 _ 

Speculative thought, 3-4, 6, 8-10, 21, 
76, 59, 70-71, 93, 131, 135, 200, 373 
Spells, 13, 147, 174-75 
Sphinx, 78, 230 
Spirit of God, 259, 269-70 
Spirits, 17, 54-55, 69-70, 232, 277-78 
Stars, 19, 46-48, 62, 80-81, 126, 130, 
181, 237, 247, 249, 251, 365, 387; cir- 
cumpolar, 47-48 

State, 26, 62-92, 96, 111 , 127-200, 202, 
206-8, 212, 355, 358, 372; cosmic, 
136-37, 142-43, 147-51, 156, 168, 
180, 183, 185-86, 191-92, 194-95, 
198, 200, 202, 206-7 
Statues, 20, 64, 67; see also Images 
Step Pyramid at Saqqara, 93 
Stoic thought, 290, 293 
Stones, 6, 130, 139, 149, 378 
Stories, 6-7, 9 

Storms, 6-7, 20, '^ 7 , 135-37, 1^-45. 
150, 156, 169, 178-79, 191, 196-97: 

244^5, 365 

“Subject-object” relation, 4-5 
Submission; Obedience 
Substitution, 63-66, 97 
Suffering, 208, 212—15, 271—74 
Sumerian words, 145-47, 158, 163, 171 
Sumukan, 161 

Sun, 8, 10, 18-20, 24, 35-36, 40, 43, 45- 
51, 62, 69-71, 126, 181-82, 210, 227, 
237, 249, 363, 365, 367, 380, 383, 387 
Sun disk, 49, 73, 85 

Sun-ffod, 20-21, 35, 44, 49, 52-54, 56- 
57, 65, 67, 73-74, 77, 79, 83, 108, 
133-34, 207,227, 563 
Sunrise, 11, 24, 35, 43-44 
Sunset, 11, 24, 35, 43-44 
Symbolical performances, 13, 64, 298 
Symbols, 12, 48-49, 79-80, 235, 237, 
298, 371, 381-82, 385 
Symmetry, 40-42, 45, 48, 52, 71 
Syria, 34, 59, 43, 80, 227-28, 243, 337 
Syrians, 228, 261, 333 

Taboo, 302, 367 

Tammuz (Dumuzi), 161, 198 

ta-iietjer^ 43 

Tefnut, 9, 19, 53-54, 58, 375 

teloSy 8 ^ 

Temples, 13, 15, 21-22, 25, 39, 51-52, 
65,77, 111-12, 117, 129, 183, 186-91, 
230, 232, 334, 336, 356 
Thales, 376-80, 382 
Thebes, 21, 49, 364 
Themis, 375 
Theophrastos, 379 
Thomas, Apostle, 240 
Thoth, 47, 60, 76, 297 
“Thou,” 4, 6-8, 13, 15, 20, 26, 41, 49, 

130, 138, 156,364, 370-71, 386 
Throne, 17, 230-31 
Thunder, 6, 178, 244, 380 
Thunderstorms, 20, 127, 135; also 

Thutmosel, 72 ^ _ 

Ti=amat, 10, 143, 170, 173-77. 1/9-80, 
200, 365 

Tigris, 15, 126, 148, 160, 171, 189 
Tilmun myth, 157-60, 164 
Time, 18, 23-25, 47 
Titans, 374 

Tolerance, 33-34 y 

Tomb furnishings, 37, 63, 93-94, 110 

Tombs, 65, 75, 77, 93-94, 97, 100-101, 
104, 106 , no 
Tongue, 41, 56-58, 83-84 
Torah, 293, 295. 316-17 



Tower of Babel, 281, 313 
Tradition, 7, 21, 33, 56-59 
Transcendence of God, 230, 233-34, 
258, 262, 363, 367-73 
Treason, 86 

Trees, 39-41, 44, 62, 149 
Trinities, 66, 233 

Truth, 7-8, 41, 62, 84, 105, 253, 276, 
281, 285, 302, 385-86 
Tutenkhamon, 81 
Tyre, 226-27 

Ubshuukkinna, 177 

Umma, 195, 204 

UA-mU’-ul^ 163 

‘‘Understanding,” 4-5 

Uniformity of Egyptian landscape, 39-41 

Upper Egypt, 43, 73-74, 77, 96 

Ur, 141-42, 192, 194-97 

Ur of the Chaldees, 326 

Uraeus-serpent, 76 

Urartu, 226 

Urash, 133 

Urbanization, 128, 336-37 
Urizi, 187 
Urnammu, 195 
Urshanabi, 211-12 
Umk, 167, 195, 208, 211 
Urukagina, 338 
Umapishtim, 210-1 1 
Uttu, 157-58 
Urn, 166; see also Shamash 
Utuhegal, 195 
Uzzah, 282, 302 

Viziers, 74, 88-90, 93-94 
Volcanoes, 243 

Water, 35-39, 45, 106-7, 377-80, 382; 
subsoil, 22, 38, 50, 137, 158, 174, 365 

Waters, 53, 80-81, 89, 130, 157, 146-47, 
150, 157-61, 170-72, 174, 180, 239, 
250, 259, 269; of chaos, 21-22, 170- 
71, 180, 199, 365; of death, 210-11; 
primeval, 9-10, 22, 45, 50-53, 56-58, 
170-71, 180, 365, 375, 378; under- 
world, 45, 51, 53, 162, 164 
West, 21, 24, 35, 43, 48, 89, 94, 107 
Will, 6, 15-17, 23, 97, 115, 127, 130-31, 
134-36, 139-40, 143, 145-46, 149-50, 
272, 274, 364; of God, 306, 310-12, 
315-18, 323-24, 330, 355, 357, 370, 

Winds, 10, 35, 70, 80, 89, 106, 126, 130, 
141-42, 161, 169, 172, 179-80, 239, 
244-45, 378,380 

Wisdom, 72, 101, 104, 118-19, 287-88, 
290-92, 307, 310, 380-82, 385; of 
God, 233, 289-95, 369, 375; gods of, 
47, 60, 76, 133, 147, 162, 174 
Wise men, 104, 118, 282-83, 286-88, 
293, 307, 309, 311, 322-23, 334, 368, 

“Wboing of Inanna, The,” 166-68 
Word of God, 56, 59-60; see also Com- 

Writing, 129 

Yahweh, 226, 231, 237, 244, 249-51, 284, 
296-97, 300-303, 308, 310, 326, 328- 
29, 332, 350, 367, 371 

Zadok, 357 
Zedekiah, 3 53 
Zeno, 290 
Zerubabbel, 358 
Zeus, 374-75, 381 
Zion, 239, 324 
ziqqurats, 129 
Zophar, 284, 286